Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Say one for me, Jesus

Have you ever been mentioned by name in a prayer? How does it make you feel? I can remember a couple times when someone prayed for me or my family or a request I voiced. It made me feel kind of self-conscious but at the same time honored. It felt like a hug from someone who cares about me. People like being prayed for. My dad, who was a chaplain in the Air Force, called his memoir Say One For Me, Chaplain because he heard that request so often.

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays for his disciples and says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” I’ve always thought that was pretty cool -- Jesus praying not only for the disciples, who are with him, but also for people in the future, like me. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for Mavis.” Put your name in there: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for _________________.”

He was praying not just for individual people like me and you, but for all of us in the future. Later in the passage he says, “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” And elsewhere the famous verse, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” (John 3:16) He loves the whole world. So it could be something like, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for Mavis and ______________, and for all the people Mavis sends this email to, and everyone in the whole world -- past, present, and future.”

And what does he pray? That we may all be one with the trinity -- him, the Father, the Holy Spirit -- and each other, to see his glory, and to know his love. That is my prayer for you, too. Each time I send this email, and many times in between, I pray that you know God loves you.

Note: I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but I use masculine pronouns when talking about Jesus and God. The footnote on this website states my reasoning well. To paraphrase: Finding appropriate and inclusive language for God is difficult. It does not work perfectly to call the Father, "God," and the Son, "Jesus," because such language may imply that Jesus is not also "God the Son." On the other hand, the repetition of "Father" and "Son" too many times reinforces an inaccurate understanding of God as male and of divinity as masculine. The point of the language is not the mistaken idea of the maleness of God. It is the reality that the way to speak accurately of God is to use words that describe the intimate, loving relationship the trinity has, and that we have with Jesus and God. When Jesus calls God father and refers to himself as God's son, he is expressing that intimate, loving relationship.


I wish everything I wrote turned out like this.
Notes on Beauty
I am getting older. If you believe in science, which I do, then I guess we’re all getting older. The aging process for me has been underway for 35 years now, but I’ve only really become aware of it recently. My hands are starting to look like my mom’s. Things that were once firm and fixed have begun to give way to gravity. The curves of my body have turned soft and squishy — even — gag — lumpy in places. Of all the bodily betrayals, the wrinkles buried into my forehead are the most focal point of my self-loathing — as if I did something specific to render them. Shame on me for emoting with every last inch of my face. And it’s only going to get worse. Like when I turn 36. The whole thing is egregious.

With this new attentiveness to my own aging, I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty. As much as I’d like to play the gal who is mysteriously aloof about her looks, I have to confess that I long to be beautiful. Specifically, I long to carry beauty into the world — like lavender brings calm — like a fire brings light. Be delighted by me. Be overcome by me. Be awed by me. Let me bring you joy. Let me put a smile on your face. I want to move through the world like a song. This longing seems writ into the twirling strands of my very DNA. Though it might be a broad-spectrum “woman thing,” perhaps men can relate.

Real, meaningful beauty has inner and outer dynamics at play. It’s a both/and. It’s a this/that. Like body and blood, the two cannot be separated or pulled apart.


If we believe in a Creator God, then we must also be convinced that he is deeply, prolifically, extravagantly concerned with beauty and the aesthetic. Look no further than the lily or the live oak, the sparrow or the sky. There is both a glory and a whimsy with which this world was conceived. And I keep thinking: that same glory and whimsy must apply to me, too.

If the created world is any indication, God’s idea of beauty spans a puzzling yet somewhere near infinite spectrum. The same God who created the gardenia and called it good also designed the duckbilled platypus. I wonder, did he giggle with delight at the genesis of the platypus? Or was he run through with chills at its spectacular splendor? God’s idea of beauty is stretched wide like open arms, in which all manner of odd creature — including me — is elevated and encompassed.

Romans 1:20 says this: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” The apostle Paul is saying here that the created world, the things God has made, tell us all about him, his character, his personality, his beauty. The wind, the fig leaf, the desert, even the Shih Tzu, they all communicate something about who he is — the boundless beauty of creation is designed to point us back to the boundless beauty of its Creator.


Paul Zahl once described grace as “love coming at you that has nothing to do with you.”

Grace, in some ways, is just a holy way of saying gift. And so all beauty must be grace; I cannot see that real, divinely inspired, inherent beauty has either strings attached or any convincing evolutionary purpose. Real beauty is to be received, enjoyed, taken in like a long-awaited house guest, worn like your most beloved piece of clothing, experienced. And God has continued to find me through the beauty of this created world — like love coming at me that has nothing to do with me — throughout my life.

As a kid outside, surrounded by the beauty of creation, I’d sit and daydream in a tree for an entire afternoon, or catch roly polies in the driveway, or tadpoles at the creek, or I’d lay on my stomach for hours making daisy chains and hunting for four-leaf clovers. Everything ordinary — including me — became extraordinary outside. The sweet churring of robins talking to each other in the pines, wind whispering through ancient oak limbs as if a living, moving thing; the smell of mowed grass and fragrant honeysuckle, a light layer of pollen and dirt covering every inch of my well-fed kid-body, and the warm embrace of the sun on my skin and clothes. Everything that had gone on the rest of the day — the demands of school, friends, my home life, the waif-like body standards of the early 90s, every thin line I wasn’t measuring up to faded away outside, overtaken by the glory of the ordinary world around me.

We don’t just experience beauty from places like treetops or wading in the froth of an ebbing ocean. We experience beauty person to person. A photograph or quick impression cannot offer real, lasting beauty (think of the Grand Canyon). Beauty in its truest form is found and kept by fully experiencing it — and in the case of people, experiencing it in the framework of relationship. For example, I don’t typically find beauty in other people’s children. But waking up in the morning to my own four-year old daughter tenderly rubbing my back – she may have been there for a minute or an hour — with her nest of tangled blond bed-head she’s the most beautiful person in the world. The gesture shows her heart, her already soft edges. Or my Kindergarten-aged son who will casually walk into a room and ask me curious things like, “Mama, am I outgoing?” The kid is a rare, outgoing delight. Or my mother who, in my direst hour, did not offer advice or a motivational speech but just sat with me — both of us barely squeezed into the same leather armchair — and cried; she glowed with something saintly. Or when my husband held my hand for the very first time as we laid on a Georgia beach that winter. It had taken me weeks or a few months to catch onto his beauty. We stared up at a boundless span of navy darkness with strewn bits of heaven bursting through its ceiling; every now and again, a shooting star. He said if he had to survive a nuclear apocalypse with only one person, he’d want it to be me. He had a dark hoody pulled up over his head. He wore thick brown nerd-glasses. And I wanted to kiss him so badly I thought I’d explode along with the stars.

If you’ve ever used something like Tinder, you know all this to be true. Real beauty must be experienced in order to be seen. No matter the filter, a photo or just a glance cannot suffice.

Only when Jesus himself drew me into relationship, where he once seemed withholding and rude, moody and judgmental, did he gradually come to be radiant with the most abundant, life-giving beauty.


Matt Capps says that “the revelation of beauty is an act of God’s self-revealing love… God alone is the source and substance of true beauty. And not only were we crafted in his image as aesthetic creatures, we were endowed with the capacity to enjoy and cultivate beautiful things.” But how far is too far when it comes to things like chemical peels or jade rollers or vampire facials? (I personally haven’t found the line yet.)

In the last year, I’ve begun to wage war on my own maturing body. I’ve dumped a truck load of money into things like collagen peptides, retinol serums, micro-currenting, and semi-regular hydro-facials. I don’t know half of what any of these things are specifically accomplishing, but I’ve been assured by the Instagram accounts of people like B-list celebrities that cumulatively, I will eventually, literally, turn back into a child.

All in all I’m a little worn out from the whole thing and feel nothing like a child. I’m still a 35-year-old who emotes with every inch of her face. I still jiggle and flop when I’m trying to be sexy. And while I can’t say I have any plans to let go of these semi-aggressive efforts, I think “the beauty regimen” is at its finest when embraced as a form of gracious and loving upkeep — like a gardener tending to her flowers. Flowers, like beauty, are pure gift. You cannot wrestle a flower up from its bed. You just water and weed and let the sun do its bidding. Overly manufactured beauty — beauty caught by strangulation — doesn’t ring with the same enchantment as a beauty who has grown and evolved with lovingkindness towards herself.

What’s my version of weeding and watering? Well, I do Pilates. I walk. I find a deep pleasure in taking the time to wash my face most mornings. I pay care and attention to applying all of my expensive lotions and creams, waiting a minute or two between each. I let my creativity come to life as I put on a bit of makeup. And before I turn out the lights in my bathroom I take one final look in the mirror. I stare myself right in the eyes, smile like I’ve got a secret, and quietly call myself the only thing I know to be true, with or without all that stuff: “beloved.”


The freneticism with which our culture demands we go about our physical upkeep is completely exhausting. I know this because (clearly) I get swept up in it too. But none of it holds up with real beauty because real beauty doesn’t exhaust. Real beauty invites us to come stay a while. Real beauty brings rest.

A few years ago, I learned a technique that aids in stopping a panic attack dead in its tracks: you take off your shoes and your socks, you open your backdoor, and you put your bare feet to the earth. Easy. Of course there’s something chemical that happens, like splashing cold water on your face. But note that a cool floor feels different on your feet than cool earth. After that first blessed shock when skin meets ground, I start to notice things. A warm, dry breeze blows my hair out of my face; the blooms of bougainvillea drift airily from their vines, and the smells — hickory smoke from the Naples rib company down the street, salt and oil from the offshore rigs, the sweet citrus of our young lemon tree out front; the sounds of car engines, boat engines, mourning doves, and kids shrieking with laughter over at Mother’s Beach. All this because of actual, divinely created and inspired dirt — cold, hard earth — connecting with the living soles of my feet. The tension peels away and I am overwhelmed by the bigness and beauty of everything else, the smallness of me, but affirmed more than ever that small and striving me is still deeply and distinctively related to the strangeness and wideness and wonder of the world.

Cheryl Strayed says in her memoir Wild, “… perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.”

The undesecrated beauty found in things like gardening, surfing, trail running, a night sky, or just standing in your backyard, speaks to and pours forth a sort of clarity, a clean slate, peace, soundness, and an invitation to receive it all. This is the gospel. That our sins — our massive failures, our disgusting habits, our inability to live up to all the many laws in life (including cultural beauty standards) — all of it has been atoned for, once and for all, on the cross of Jesus.

Stepping outside barefoot is a little like opening the plane window for the first time as you land in a foreign country. Or like running off of a cliff and then feeling that sudden pull of a parachute catch you from behind. In the most ordinary sense, putting my feet on the ground does something about shocking me into my actual life. It forces me to be present, in all my exactly-as-I-am-ness. All these sensory signs of where I am become the setting, the reminder of who I am — created. I, like the bougainvilleas and the sea have been drawn with lovingkindness, known and planned from the beginning, loved with an everlasting love. I can rest. I can pull up a chair. I can stay a while. This is exactly how I’d like for you to experience me, at both 35 and 85.


Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” We know that God will one day, finally and completely make all things new. Yet scripture tells us here that His magnificent process of undoing — of perfecting and remaking — has already begun. Most days, this seems impossible to me. The idea that God could be in the full-fledged midst of performing a massive, upending redeeming act seems nearly laughable. How can we be in a resurrection cycle when the world around us looks like Isengard’s orc pit from Lord of the Rings?

If we believe what scripture says, that God is making everything beautiful in its time, I think we have to also believe that God is using the aging of our bodies as a part of His redemptive movement in the world. That what plays out in our aging is not just a descent towards death, but instead a distinctive sphere where God is simultaneously undoing and redoing all the wrong and sad. That we really are becoming more beautiful with age (and not just because our husbands say so).

1 Peter 3:3-4 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” At first pass, I want to hate these verses. Like, barf-hate. But if I marinate for a while on “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” it starts to sound like peace, like rest, like surrender, like the swaying lilies of the field that do not labor or spin. The authentic beauty we reveal as a created people comes from our hearts at rest. And a heart finds expanding rest in the day-after-day love and delight of Christ.

Aging, in all its aches and pains, its griefs and hardships, can lead us right to the foot of the cross. Leslie Jameson said in her talk at the 2019 Mockingbird conference, “Grace has never lived in the unbroken parts of my life, but in the broken ones — the ones that still ached toward the possibility of beauty. Not possibility, actually, but rather acknowledgment — the awareness that beauty was already all around us. It never left.”

Like Psalm 51 implies, God sometimes breaks bones and bodies in order to heal hearts — nobody knows this better than Jesus. Which means that even my wobbly tummy and cavernous forehead creases are part of his plan for eternal beauty, like the scars on the resurrected Christ, marks of his faithfulness toward me.


A friend of mine says he likes to think of wrinkles like bodily Ebenezers. In 1 Samuel chapters 4 and 7, “Ebenezer” means “stone of help.” Samuel erected the Ebenezer stone as a reminder to the Israelites that “Thus far, the Lord has helped us.” Our wrinkles and lumps are, in a similar sense, reminders of all that God has already done for us — we are here, we have been rescued, and we’ve lived another year to tell that remarkable tale. In another sense, because no amount of Vitamin-C serum can actually terminate the aging process, age is a reminder of our total helplessness outside of God.

This is how our insides are tended and pruned. This is where our decaying turns into becoming.

There is a sublime grace in aging. It is not so much a loss or a lack but an abundance, each year another raised Ebenezer: a physical, in your face, minute-by-minute reminder of how otherworldly beautiful we are to Jesus, and of the stunning reality that he’d choose us again every time. This is redemptive beauty. That when we cast our broken, failing bodies into the arms of grace, over and over again, we are remade; we are stilled; we are quieted by his love, and quieted by his love, and quieted by his love. I have only ever found true rest here, on my knees, in that one-word act of surrender — Help — a beautiful invitation, the very utterance itself a gift.

Here, our fixation on the world’s standard of beauty falls away. And what takes its place is a reliance and dependence on Jesus himself as the ultimate beauty.

If our redemption is a sort of re-versing (like a poem or a song), we continue to bear the notes and marks of what has been. Like a map of our stories, we wear our past joy, our suffering, our great love, our grief, our strange adventures, our unyielding grace. Francis Spufford says that “Everything taken into the Kingdom becomes more itself, not less…” Over time, we become more of the quirky and particular people God created us to be as unique image bearers. By the second, we are perfecting reflections of his divine beauty. And divine beauty is a heart at rest, a heart that invites rest, a surrendered heart, a hidden heart, a kept heart.

Here I raise my Ebenezer.


One summer in high school, I went on a biking trip through the Pyrenees with twelve other kids. It was grueling. I was not prepared. Yet I don’t really remember all the tears, or the hormone-induced acne, or even the disgrace and embarrassment I surely experienced from being the caboose of the group every day. My failures and my physical limitations and my inability to perform well are not what stick out to me about that trip when I think about it now. What seems significant were the fields and fields of sunflowers, spanning the horizon like thick yellow paint strokes. How sometimes there would be a mile between me and the next person in the group, and the peculiar silence of a rural space — interrupted only by my own heavy breathing. I think of one downhill specifically that followed a particularly punishing uphill. As I eagerly tore down this mountain that had all but bested me just moments ago, an actual swarm of butterflies — the technical term for which is a kaleidoscope — a kaleidoscope of hundreds of thousands of small, delicate, white-green butterflies overtook me like a wave of lace. I could feel their wings on my face and my body as I pedaled freely, unhindered, effortlessly down this mountain, as if I were being carried. I laughed with my head thrown back. Nobody was around.

You are moving through this world like a song, Charlotte. I am delighted by you. I am overcome by you. I am awed by you.

It was serene, as restful as an inhale. A clean slate. Clarity. And outside, without walls, a temple curtain, or “the perfect skin tint,” I could see the moon, I could see creation, and I — a dirty, sweaty, mess — was a beautiful part of it all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Zombies? Seriously?

I heard an interview on the podcast "Makers and Mystics" with Jonathan Pageau. I had heard of him a little because of my friend Paul VanderKlay and his connection to Jordan Peterson. In this interview, the host asks Pageau about "Pentecost for the Zombie Apocalypse." I decided to listen to it. I don't like zombies. If you don't, either, don't let that stop you. If you do like them, there's a lot more to them than you might think. The video is about an hour long but worth it. A richness of thought, art, religion, connections, symbolism, church, the world, icons, meaning. So, so much.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Love rivers

Recently I heard and read two things that made beautiful images in my mind. I want to share them with you.

One was a poem that Amanda Held Opelt read at her sister Rachel Held Evans’ funeral [1].

Deep & Blue
by Rachel Held Evans

Flying a kite,
like fishing upside down.
I gaze into the infinite, dizzying blue
and wonder what’s swimming around up there,
catching invisible currents of air
that tug and tighten up my string.
I’m glad we live in in between,
not the top or bottom of anything.

I also read this poem in a newsletter I receive every day from the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Richard Rohr:

Love flows from God into [humans]
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
. . . Thus we move in [God’s] world
One in body and soul, . . .
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings—
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound.
—Mechthild of Magdeburg (1207–c. 1282/1294) [2]

“Flying a kite, like fishing upside down.” “Like a bird who rivers the air.” We sound a note when the Holy Spirit touches us like a harpist touches the strings. Wow. Words. What a gift they are.

My phone and photo sharing site have lots of photos of the sky. Beautiful clouds in a blue sky fill me with joy. I never thought of the sky as a river. The kite and the bird “river the air.” (Since when is “river” a verb? Love it!)

Love rivers from God to me. Love rivers from God to you.
Love flows from God into me, into you,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.

[2] Mechthild of Magdeburg, “Effortlessly, / Love flows from God into man,” Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, ed. Jane Hirshfield(Harper Perennial: 1995), 93. Used with permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Monday, May 27, 2019


I am nerding out, as Randy says. I have been listening to this podcast, and I was there when it was created! Coolness. The subject was success, on how do you want to be when you grow up rather than what. I hear quite a bit of talk right now about this topic -- success, meaning, purpose in life.  

I thought this part of the dialog was interesting:

Ms. Pope: Yeah. I always start my talks out with “How do you define success?” And if I say it to students in a student assembly, without fail, usually, the top couple of answers are money, grades, test scores, where you go to college, something like that. And that’s been consistent, now, for 15 years.

And when I ask the same question to the parents — and usually, it is the parents of those kids, who are coming at the same school that night — it’s never that. Now, they could be lying; they don’t want to say “money,” when — but usually —

Ms. Tippett: “I want my kid to make a lot of money.” [laughs] Right.

Ms. Pope: No one’s going to stand up and say that out loud. But they say happiness, well-being, give back to society, love and be loved — really different from what we’re hearing from the kids.

What do you think of that? I wonder what message I sent to my children as they grew up, what message are they sending to their children, and what about myself? What do I think will make me feel I have a successful life? I am grateful to my parents for the message they sent me and my siblings as I grew up. I don’t know if they said it in so many words, but I knew that they supported us in all we wanted to do, and did not put pressure on us to achieve some kind of outwardly “lofty” career. I knew that they prayed we would keep our faith in God that they themselves modeled.

This sentiment was strengthened in me as I went through the death of my brother. Most of you know he died of ALS when he was 52. Dan struggled in school all his life (looking back, my mother thinks he had dyslexia but that was pretty much unknown at that time). He became a worker at an aluminum factory. He had a home in the country with animals and work he loved, a loving family life, and was a man of faith. When he was dying, his co-workers were faithful friends. They visited him regularly and supported his wife Kathy in whatever way they could. They pooled their money to have a wheelchair ramp built on Dan’s home when that was needed. Our family was grateful for their faithfulness and love. It reminded me that relationships and the way you live your life are so much more important than the job you happen to have.

The common factor here, it seems to me (and perhaps some may think it is morbid), is what you will feel when you look back on your life. When I die, I want to look forward to meeting God, and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That will be success. I would have no hope for that to come true without the love of God being poured into me and reflected out of me. Praise God for his love.

Saturday, May 11, 2019


My mind feels kind of jumbled with lots of thoughts. This is a longer message than I usually send, and longer to read than most of us are used to doing any more. There are many things we do that take longer than the 4-½ minutes this is estimated to take so I hope you will fit it in. Regardless, I remind you again as always, that God loves you exactly as and who you are. I am grateful we hold each up in prayer.

(I have links at the end to more information on the people I write about below.)

First, all week I’ve been thinking about Rachel Held Evans. When she died I felt shock and more grief than I would have imagined I would feel about someone I haven’t met. It seemed weird to cry and feel sad all day, and for days after, about someone I only knew through reading books, following on social media. hearing on podcasts and at festivals. Maybe it did seem a little closer because I had just been to a conference in San Francisco where she was a main speaker, along with Nadia Bolz-Weber. I saw her close up there, and heard her speak several times.

As I’ve been reading and thinking about Rachel, it’s become clearer than ever that one of the reasons Rachel has made such a difference to people is that she accepts -- and not just accepts, loves -- people as they are. She did not say that you had to stop being or doing whatever sinful thing you were or did before God loves you. That may be what we hear all the time -- God loves everyone -- but somehow it’s not what we see.

I think of a sermon our pastor gave recently where he talked about Jesus having dinner with people who were “current sinners.” They were “sinners and tax collectors,” people who were cheating the Jewish people of their money. They weren’t repentant sinners and tax collectors, or ex-sinners and tax collectors. They were current sinners and tax collectors.

This can be hard. It comes up in many ways. In some churches in the past, when a young woman got pregnant before marriage, she was required to ask forgiveness in public at the church. I heard not long ago of a church council struggling with what to do when a young unmarried couple wanted their baby to be baptized. Should they baptize a child of a couple they felt was not obeying God’s commands? Once a fellow church member mused, “What if a prostitute walked into our church? Do we just ignore what she’s doing?” In the past, our church tried to welcome a gay couple, but the men in that couple were not allowed to lead, there were some members who made sure never to talk to or sit near them, and some people were unhappy with them even serving coffee during the fellowship time after church. And I’m not innocent in all this. The church did seem like a place of repentant sinners to me, too. I am confused, too. What does it mean to accept and love current sinners into the church? How does that work? What does that look like?

Rachel Held Evans was known for loving people the church did not welcome. She encouraged many people who were questioning their faith, who felt like the church was telling them God did not love them, who made them feel shame rather than love. Even though I don’t know exactly how to make church a loving place for all, including current sinners, I pray that I can show God’s love to all -- current or repentant or ex-sinners. May God help me. May he do the work for me, because I cannot do it myself.

Another thing that happened this week is the death of Jean Vanier. I have not read as much of Jean Vanier’s writings, but I have admired him for many years. He saw lonely, despairing people in a psychiatric hospital and decided to be their friend. He bought a house and invited two of them to live with him. From that small beginning, grew a huge network of group homes for intellectually disabled people called L’Arche. What an amazing person. He did not have a plan to start a big, worldwide ministry. He felt like he had to be a friend to two disabled, lonely people.

Jean Vanier’s life and sayings made me think of Mother Teresa, who I have also been thinking about a lot lately. I went to a retreat called “The Three Teresas” last weekend, and one of the three was Mother Teresa. Jean Vanier said about the first two people he lived with, “Essentially, they wanted a friend  They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.” Mother Teresa said, “You see, I always feel like this, many years back when I picked up the first person, if I didn’t do it that time, I would have never picked up the 42,000 in Calcutta -- 42,000 from the streets. So, I think, one at a time.” One at a time. One at a time. What are we called to do, one at a time?

In one review of a biography of Jean Vanier, Anne Sophie-Constant writes, “Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty.” Mother Teresa, too, saw beauty where we see ugliness. She looked at an emaciated, spastic, bony little boy, unable to speak or control his body and said, “Lovely child. Lovely child.”

God’s love is incredible.

Rachel Held Evans
  • Her blog.
  • Includes links to her books and  the health updates with the final one from her husband on May 4th.
“Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.
Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.
Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.
This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.”  -Dan
  • If you want to see something showing the way technology can be used as a way to show God’s love, search on Twitter for #PrayforRHE and #BecauseofRHE.
  • Many obituaries and articles available with a Google search.

Rev. Trent Elders’ sermon about current sinners in the church
The sermon titled “Meal Church” on this page.

Mother Teresa


Jean Vanier

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Teresa of Calcutta - Mother Teresa, presented by Leelamma Sebastian (3 of 4)

For the first presentation about Mother Teresa, we watched this documentary of Mother Teresa. It is almost 1-1/2 hours long. Well worth it. What an amazing woman. Some quotes I wrote down.
  • A carrier of God's love
  • God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts.
  • Poverty is not caused by God. We humans cause it because we do not share.
  • God will not force us to do good; we must choose.
  • A Beirut military leader: "A saint was not what I needed most."
  • Small things with great love. It is not how much we do, it is how much love.
  • To God there is nothing small. The moment we give it to God it is infinite.
  • Jesus' last words from the cross, "I thirst." Not so much for water but for my love and your love.
  • Accept whatever he gives. This is surrender. Give whatever he takes.
In the discussion after the movie, Leelamma told us that she actually met Mother Teresa. Leelamma was born in India and at age 15 she went to Calcutta to join the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa told her she needed to go back home and come back later, but Leelamma stayed for about 2 years, working with the sisters. She left at 17 but her brother is a priest with Missionaries of Charity and she has many cousins and relatives who work in it.

I said that the quote about "I thirst" being about Jesus thirsting for my love rather than the other way around was a new perspective for me. Leelamma said "I Thirst" has become a movement. Jesus thirsts for our love.

Dr. Pat Campbell said Therese of Lisieux also talked of Jesus' thirst. Therese saw a picture of Jesus on the cross with his blood dripping into the sand. She felt it was Jesus thirsting for souls.

Watching the documentary, I was moved many times. Mother Teresa said she was a pencil in God's hands, writing love songs to Jesus. I thought of that when the movie played the song "Make me a channel of your peace." How can I be an instrument in God's hands?

One of our handouts was a prayer written by Cardinal John Henry Newman named "Radiating Christ." The sisters say this prayer every day. They say "us" and "we" and "ours." The retreat leaders suggested substituting "me" and "I" and "my"
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
    that my life may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through me and be so in me
    that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up, and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
    so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise you in the way you love best,
    by shining on those around me.
Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example,
    by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do,
    the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you. Amen.

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Therese of Lisieux, presented by Dr. Pat Campbell (2 of 4)

Therese of Lisieux was born and raised in Lisieux, Normandy, France. She lived with her family always, and had a loving, very devout family, unlike Teresa of Avila who had a hard life in Spain. Therese wrote that she "found flowers under each of her steps," which is probably why she is often called "Little Flower."

Therese's childhood, though, had a dark underside. She was plagued by anxiety and fear. She lost her mother to breast cancer and other family caretakers in other ways, making her separation anxiety worse and worse. She also worried obsessively that she was doing wrong, even committing mortal sin. They called that "scruples." And she had a quick temper, often having large temper tantrums.

The speaker at the retreat reminded us that sanctity does not take away fears and anxieties, but Therese persisted.

Therese had what is called a "Christmas conversion." One Christmas, Therese overheard her father saying he thought Therese (the youngest child, now 14) was getting too old for the little ceremony of gifts for the youngest child, and that he was glad it was the last year they would do it. Therese's sister, knowing Therese heard this, and knowing how upset Therese would get, went upstairs to tell Therese not to ruin things by showing her hurt and anger. She found Therese sitting on her bed with tears in her eyes, but Therese was able to control herself and show calm and quiet. She felt God granted her relief from her extreme touchiness. Like the other Teresa, she still had the feelings but God gave her the strength to deal with herself.

After that, Therese was able to see all she did, including mundane tasks like laundry and sweeping, as a conversation with God. She corresponded with St. John of the Cross and quoted him when she said her self was put into "the flame of God's love."

The thing about mundane tasks reminded me of a talk given by Kathleen Norris on the quotidian mystery, also about how God is present in our mundane parts of life. When I read that, I thought of how I used to count the shirts I washed on laundry day -- I remember there being more than 60 sometimes! -- and how that quotidian task was a service to my family and thereby a service to God. (But now I happily do only my own laundry, so what does that mean?!)

Therese had a scene she imagined where she saw God at the top of a stairway encouraging her to come up, the way her father would encourage her, saying, "You can do it." But when she tried to get up the first step, her leg was too small and she became frustrated with trying. Then God came and carried her up. She had to try, but God did the work, not her.

Therese felt that "[her] vocation was love." She wanted to bring God's love to people, not hers -- she even confessed she herself did not like or love some of the people -- but God's. All three of these Teresa's talk about that, about God's love coming to others through them. It makes me think about how showing God's love is something I can do all the time, no matter what I'm doing or who I'm with. May God's love shine through me more and more and always.

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Teresa of Avila, presented by Cris Goodman (1 of 4)

I am at a retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center, Los Altos, CA, May 3-5, 2019.The retreat is about 3 saints named Teresa: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Last night the 3 leaders, Dr. Pat Campbell, Cris Goodman, and Leelamma Sebastian, gave an overview of the 3 Teresas, and today there will be a short session on each, with time afterward to reflect and pray. We have heard about Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, next will be Mother Teresa.

Teresa of Avila

I took notes on the overview of Teresa of Avila's life and I won't put all those here into my blog. Briefly, Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther. She is called "Big Teresa," as opposed to "Little Teresa," Therese of Lisieux. Teresa of Avila joined a convent because she did not want to marry and that was the only other choice. Convents back then were full of women who did not want to marry and were not the fervent religious places that convents are now. There was a lot of socializing and Teresa loved that. She had a conversion experience, though, where she pictured Jesus alone and in need, as in Gethsemane, and she was able then to approach him and stay with him. After that, she did a lot of writing (including The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle) and started 14 convents -- that were not for socializing, but for dedicating your life to God.

Teresa of Avila said, "My life changed when I said yes to Christ." I feel like my life changed when I said yes to my imagination as my connection to God, most especially Ignatian contemplative meditation, where I use my imagination to be with, talk to, and listen to Jesus.

Teresa of Avila described growing in your prayer life using the metaphor of watering the garden.

The first stage is when you are watering with bucketfuls from the well. You must make many trips and you start to develop new spiritual muscles.

Stage 2 is when you are getting water from a water wheel. The water is higher, there is less work, and God's grace is more clearly evident.

Stage 3 is when a stream waters the garden. You need to dig ditches to speed the flowing water to the garden, but God does almost all the work.

Finally, stage 4 is when the garden is watered by rain. It is the union of our soul with God. God's rain does all the work. Prayer is not experienced as work, but joy. All our senses are occupied with this joy.

Wouldn't it be cool to have a fountain based on those 4 stages -- a bucket on a well, a water wheel, a stream, and rain?

I asked myself what stage do I think I am at. I think it is stage 2. Praying is not super hard work, but there is still some temptation to skip it. I see God's grace everywhere, though.

A handout had this "bookmark poem," found in a book of Teresa's after she died:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing distress you.
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
God alone is enough.
~ St. Teresa of Avila
I rewrote it using my own words.
When things I don't like or think are wrong happen at work, church, or home,
it disturbs me.
When my beloved family members seem in trouble,
it distresses me.
May I remember, God does not change. He loves and loves and loves.
God grant me patience, even if I wait all the way to death.
May I be filled with God. May I empty myself and may God rush in,
like water filling and overflowing,
like light filling and radiating.

He holds the future

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because he lives!
(“Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither)

I sang this chorus this past weekend at a women’s get-together. It’s from a song I did not grow up with. The chorus came to me the night my dad died, and has recurred as a song “stuck in my head” many times since.

When my dad died I wondered how I would live. To those of you who are younger, it may sound crazy that at age 60 I would still feel that kind of dependence on my father. My mother was in a nursing home with Parkinson’s and died about 4 months after Dad. The words of this chorus were a constant refrain during that time and still are now. Life is worth living because God lives and holds the future.

When I see what is going on in my own life and the lives of those I love, the natural disasters affecting so many people and so much of nature, the wars we fight, the way we treat each other, the decisions and plans we humans make. I sometimes think, “Well, we’ve bumbled through it and made it this far, I guess we will again.” Other times I remember the promise that God holds the future.

We could talk for hours, maybe days, even years, about what it means to say “God holds the future.” Does he control the future? Does he just know the future? Does he intervene and determine the future? I don’t know all the answers and I don’t think anyone does. I like the word “hold.” It sparks the image of another song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

When I think of God holding me, and holding the future, I see the image of Treebeard the Ent in “Lord of the Rings” scooping up and holding the hobbits Merry and Pippin. God scoops me up and sets me on his shoulder

picture by Paul Dohle,
God holds the world. He holds the universe. He holds the future, the past, and the present. He holds me. He holds you.

What can I pray about for you?

love and blessings,


PS - Since writing this yesterday, this song has been stuck in my head and just a little bit ago I realized I was singing, "Because he loves, I can face tomorrow....", substituting "loves" for "lives." It works that way, too. :)
If you would like to send me specific prayer requests I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at I'll keep all communication confidential.