Stretch to strengthen: pain of a healing sort


No one really wants to be stretched. At least not too far, and definitely not when the stretching goes beyond what feels comfortable.

There’s just a certain out-of-control-feeling when someone is pulling you and you don’t know how far they will go, or even if they will stop. If you have ever had physical therapy after an injury or surgery, you know exactly what I’m describing. It’s painful but it’s pain of a healing sort. It helps recover your range of motion, and once you have that, the strengthening can begin. Then you’re on the road to return to action.

While there lots of ways to strengthen — exercise machines, dumbbells, pulleys, weights — it’s likely that when you earn your discharge from the PT gym you’ll be sent home with a lovely parting gift called a resistance band. It’s meant to be your home exercise companion. And it comes with a wonderful secret: When you stretch it, it strengthens you.

I know that sounds a bit counterintuitive, but it’s true. When you pull, it resists, gently. As you pull harder, it stretches, slowly. The harder you pull, the more it stretches and the more that strengthens you. This feels very much like life these days and, to me, very much like the life of faith. Body and soul engaged in a give-and-take which feels very much like exercise.

Apparently, my approach is a bit atypical. While most faith-folk tend to start with the soul and then invite the body along, when I begin with body, my soul always comes along for the joy ride. *

Try for yourself. Here’s a simple prayer routine using the “exercise” band and the words to the praise song, Spirit of the Living God. My daughter Stephanie’s lovely voice accompanies me.


The movement is prayer. The words are prayer. The music is prayer.

But even better, even after the prayer-exercise is done, the sensation of prayer remains… in the body! The muscles that moved the band — the effort, the stretch, the exertion of prayer — reverberate and reiterate: melt me, mold me, fill me, use me. Literally, the prayer is still there.

This is too good to be true, right? Try it again. Become aware of the energy, the symbiosis, the connection of stretch to strengthen. Let your body prayer become fluid, flowing one motion into the next. Body and soul, together. Who could conceive of something so powerful and yet so simple?

*My thanks to the folks at the Upper Room for honoring my unusual approach and inviting me to join them to lead worship at SOULfeast 2013.

SOULfeast 2013

Letting Love Show

photo 2

Using our bodies may be the most sacred of all things we do on earth. It’s the one thing we are given that is meant to be used wholly for our time here on our earth – our LIFE-time.

The greatest testimony of all, beyond the life of our Lord, is our own life as we live it.

  • We can castigate bullies, but if we are one, that means nothing.
  • We can warn against the dangers of texting and driving, but if we do it, it means nothing.
  • We can champion self-respect, but if we have none, it means nothing.
  • We can caution against failing to set healthy boundaries, but it we fail to, it means nothing.

We, the wise, older set, who have lived life and have something to say, are resounding gongs and clanging symbols in the lives of those we love if we say one thing and do another. We become noise-makers, adding additional volume but no more meaning.

This, I believe, is why the biblical Paul so passionately begins his plea to the people of Corinth this way:

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

This precedes the beautiful “love chapter” of the Bible often read at weddings. Of the love that is patient and kind and doesn’t envy or boast. The love that’s not self-seeking, isn’t prideful or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. That perfect love which never fails.

That’s the love we can never quite live up to but which sets an example to reach for in our lives with another, and with all others, including ourselves.

First, we have to let that love come alive and be real in us, before we try to pawn it off on someone else. Otherwise, our hypocrisy is telling, and they will probably waste no time telling us! When we say one thing, but do another, it’s our unloving that’s showing.

We have to start with love, both for ourselves and the other – not an easy task. It requires perspective beyond ourselves to set a right course for our intentions and priorities. When we invite an honest look at the lives we are leading, we can align our thoughts, words and actions with the love God intends.

When we start with love, what we say and do makes a whole lot more sense.

By Our Wounds, We are Healed


You don’t start out the best at anything. The only way to get better is to work at it. Things take practice and patience, trial and error, falling down and getting up. Three years ago this April, I fell and could not get back up. I needed help, which included a repair to the hamstring tendon which had become detached from its site of origin. Sewing and bit of skeletal carpentry would be necessary. (I also began blogging then. You can find that story here at On the Way to Well.)

Today, the attachment is good as new, but not the hamstring. Oh, it works pretty well. I can run and jump and play without concern. Just every now and then, when I get in just the wrong position, it panics and balls itself up. This is inconvenient and can be a bit embarrassing because there is no inciting event. Nothing startles or irritates. I am just sitting or getting up or kneeling and bingo. Hello says the hamstring and I am at its mercy.

This wouldn’t have surprised anyone back in the days when I hobbled around in a brace. They expected my gimpiness and disability. But now that I am healed, I should be good as new. Well, I am new, but I need to qualify that good. I am the product of repair. I bear the scars, inside and out, of all that life has hurled at me. And that is good. In fact, today I would say that is very, very good.

But oh my, the list. When I go to see a new doctor he wants to know my “history.” Not just of this ailment, but of all the things that have ailed me. What hurts, what has malfunctioned, what’s been repaired, modified, extracted. All that’s ever gone wrong I’m supposed to write on those few puny lines. Oh, if he only knew. Then he would know me.

So, in these days after Easter, I am sitting vicariously with those cowering 11 disciples in the Upper Room. Had I been fortunate enough to be among them in those days, I surely would have been around that table, worrying, lamenting, fearing the worst, right along with them. And suddenly Jesus is among them. They weren’t expecting that, clearly weren’t expecting him. In fact at first they didn’t recognize him. Here’s how John recounts it:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  ~ John 20:19-22

Once he showed them his hands and side, they “saw” him. I had always thought that Doubting Thomas was the only slow one, but apparently not. They didn’t know it was Jesus, it seems, until He showed them his wounds.

And so I think of my “wounds.” After I die, this is how people will be able to positively identify me. Regardless of the lifeless state of my physical body, people will know me by the dental work I have had done, the thumb tendon I had replaced, the bunionectomy that realigned my right big toe, the scar over my right eye where that girl headed me in the head playing soccer in college, the C-section lines where emerged two of my children, and yes, the stitch marks where they sewed back my damaged hamstring tendon. They will know me by the marks on my hands and feet, the scar on my forehead and the gashes in my butt and belly. They will know me by my wounds, that have been healed. The evidence remains.

How compassionate of the Living Christ to show this to those cowards in the Upper Room. See these? Now you go and live life, battle scars and all. That’s how they’ll know you have lived, just as it is how you know that I live.

When we bolt the doors against fear, we don’t keep hurt out, we lock ourselves in. Thank goodness God broke in to show us the Way out!

Love: A communal project


“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a model is worth a thousand pictures.”

What an interesting image that presents for me, a writer, who seeks to paint pictures with her words and a scientist, who seeks to put everything together as a working model.

The man who shared this with me, it turns out, was an electrical engineer. Reminded me very much of my father who loves projects and puzzles and calculations. But what he loves most of all is thinking about things  – with someone else.

I didn’t realize until recent years that we are alike, Dad and me. We love a challenge (God help me, I can never do something the easy way.) that we can work out. And I mean that literally. A project with confounding parts that we can try this way and that to see what fits. The solution is not like a model airplane where Part A is glued to Part B, though that might be a step in the process. No, the solution is in the working.

Does it fly? Does it run? Does it produce?

And that’s meant to be held up so everyone can decide. Yes, we may measure it differently. We may evaluate its efficiency. We may listen to its noise. We may watch its motion. But the beauty is, a model allows us all to take a look. To try out our hypotheses, perturb the systems and then see what happens.

It makes words and pictures into a living thing. A communal project.

In this we can contend with each other and tear down or we can work together to understand and to build. Hands on. Everyone gets a turn at trying. The things that work become part of the model. It grows. And better explains some complexity that before befuddled us all.

Perhaps the earth is such a model. A place to try what seems right to us and see how it works. And to let others try. If we worked together to build a model that provided for everyone, that would look very much like loving each other.

Where life gets real, there is always hope


We lost a young man in our church last Tuesday afternoon. He died as the result of a tragic accident. Suddenly. On the day he graduated from 8th grade. He was a good kid but not perfect – an adventurous boy, a reliable friend, a brother you could count on, a loving son. He regularly humbled his father at one-on-one basketball and whispered “I love you” in his mother’s ear. So said the preacher who solemnly remembered him to a packed sanctuary yesterday.

Bennett Rill was 14 years old.

He had just been confirmed in the church. That means that he had completed a 4-month study program, been mentored by an adult in our church and been interviewed by one of our pastors about his readiness to answer the question, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”

He answered yes. That “yes” didn’t prevent the accident which ended his life. That’s a tough one. Lots of questions hover – the why’s, the what if’s, the where were you’s. I suspended those questions as I sat in the sanctuary and listened to the story of Bennett. The kid who lived life all out. The kid who wasn’t afraid to love and to say so. The kid who competed for the complete joy it gave him, not to impress but to give his best when his best was needed.

Real Deal

They called him the “real deal.” That is, not just the kid who says the right words but the one who does the right thing. That lives his life and his faith just the same. The one you have no doubt about – he’s telling the truth. You can see it. Not just in church. Not just in school. Not just at home. But on the field of play. And for a 14 year old boy, that’s where life gets real.

A cousin (and pastor) said of him, “He was stoked for joy.” I love that. Stoked. Prepared. Ready to go. Looking for the action. His coach said, “Bennett was ready in season and out. There was no off season.” He was ready. We weren’t ready for this.

Still, as Christians we are meant to be ready. Ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. And so I sit with this tragedy and the reading that comes close to hand. Madeleine L’Engle has written, “mediate is part of the word immediate, the place of now, where past and future come together.”

The Great Mediator reaches back into our now. Back from the future that he has already defined but where He has promised not to intervene and, I expect through great tears, He sews and mends and heals. Time and space are not linear to Him. They don’t happen in our order. This is what makes the impossible, possible. In that mediate space, chronos (our time) and Kairos (God’s time) converge.

I conclude this because I have seen it before. Some years ago when my brother died suddenly and without warning I asked in my grief, “Where were you, Lord? If you had been there my brother wouldn’t have died.” And He showed me my journal of a few days before where I had written those very words from John 11:21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I had concluded that we were foolish to suppose He wasn’t there for Martha or for us. Three days before I knew I would need these words, God had provided them.

But now Bennett…and I walk into my neighborhood Starbucks, searching for words to share with this family. Suddenly, coincidentally, God-incidentally, I see three young men standing near a beautiful arrangement of pink flowers. “They are for our friends, the Rills,” they tell me.

I ask about their friend Bennett and they tell me the story of the roof and the friend who fell and the voltage. “We were with him,” they say. “See, look at the marks on my hands.” Sure enough, there are burn marks across the fingers of one of the boys. The Truth is standing before me.

But they echo in my mind in a different voice. They are the words Jesus spoke to his doubting disciple Thomas.

“Put your finger here; see my hands… Stop doubting and believe.”

John 20:27

And there Hope was, standing before me, in a rising 9th grader, speaking words thousands of years old that he may never have heard or read.

Even in tragic death there is hope. The decision is less to cling to life than to cling to the Lord of life, who has conquered death and written a much greater story. CS Lewis writes it so beautifully at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia:

“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

What a glorious image. May it settle upon this family and this community and lead us forward.

Hidden Writing


Displaced from my usual writing spot at my desk and even my special springtime spot on the front porch, I settled (grudgingly) onto a picnic table on the back porch. The writing surface is a bit grimy and uneven so I brought out some lovely place mats to smooth over my discomfort. No go.

When I write, I want my pen to flow completely unhindered over its surface. This is easy to do on the pages of my journal – college ruled composition book, the current one, yellow in color. But today’s writing was simply the recording of scripture verses as I looked them up. No original thoughts, ideas or insights. Heavens, these words were thousands of years old. I had read and transcribed them many times, but still, they deserved smooth.

So I placed my single printed page on top of my yellow  journal, #35 of its kind by my count, and began again to write.

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” I copied from my Bible onto this page. “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” I penned. “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” I wrote.

Then…”The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I shaped these words in purple fine point pen on the page and then stopped. Suddenly I became aware that each word I wrote on the single sheet was being transferred onto the face of the yellow journal underneath. Invisible to the eye, it was simply indentation. Words written on top and around and over, tangled, with no concern for alignment or periods or capital letters. Invisible, unless a great blank sheet were overlayed and the side of a pencil gently rubbed over. Then, all these words would be revealed.

Perhaps this is how the Word of God is written on us. Etched in divine penmanship. Then, when a new, pure white sheet it overlayed, the hand of life smoothly strokes us up and down. The Great Revealing Pencil uncovers what’s been hidden to all eyes but His. What He has spoken into existence is revealed.

“We are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do,” I wrote, shaping the words onto this page, now aware they were being transferred invisibly to the one underneath.

If a child, perhaps my child, brought her paper and shading pen today and colored on my life, what would be revealed?

Have you seen the DQ Duckie?


Have you seen the ducks at Dairy Queen?

Ducks come in all flavors. Dipped and regular.

See them? Go ahead. Look carefully. See the eye, the beak, the fluffy little body? You see it now, right? Had you seen it before?

I can’t go to Dairy Queen without seeing them now. Just for the record, I do love Dairy Queen. Not that I frequent the place, but there’s one along the bike trail and I am all about rewards after a good day of riding.

And that store, right along the W&OD Trail was where my eyes were first opened… to the ducky. Our family sat at a small table, just beneath the advertising poster on the wall of the store. Our pre-school-aged daughter Olivia pointed to the sign and said, “Look at the duckie!”

We looked, but no, we didn’t see it. She insisted, pointing and describing the details. She wasn’t making this up. Right there in the ice cream, she saw the duckie. And finally, looking as if through her eyes, we saw it too. All the little ice cream swirls completed the heads and beaks and big duckie eyes.

Children see with different eyes. Eyes that haven’t already decided “what something is.” They are open in a way adult eyes don’t seem to be. But even in adults the child-like eyes are still there. I know because, with her help, my eyes could see it as she did. It wasn’t hidden. It just wasn’t apparent until I had a bit of help.

I think the eyes of faith are this way. Sometimes we just need a bit of help seeing what’s already there. Like an Escher painting, we need a shift in perspective to see what we didn’t initially see. Once we see it, it’s obvious. But we may need someone sitting at our table to point it out to us.

This week I heard someone say the Trinity is like this: God above us, God beside us, God within us. I probably have heard that before but it never quite struck me this way. That Christ is the “God beside us” opening the scriptures to us, imploring us, giving us strength, helping us see — opening our eyes to what’s obvious to Him but not yet to us.

I know the trinity is a sticking point between me and my Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters. The divinity of Christ, his membership with the three, the part He plays in connecting me with God the Father and God the Spirit, is not clear to them. They don’t know “God beside them,” just above and within. The Lord and Father they know compels them to incredible obedience – just as that same Father does me. I just have the Son beside me pointing the way.

I wonder how many times He has said, “Don’t you see?” And I haven’t seen, or haven’t heard, or just looked the other way in my distraction by other things. Jesus is in the perspective-changing business, and that’s all about the opening of eyes.

For some I imagine it isn’t till the end of things that the Lord’s presence allows them to make the triune connection. Of course by then any child could see it.

Can we see stillness? hear silence?


Oh, what a welcome respite a recent “snow day” was for some. Particularly the ones whose days are hustle and bustle. Whose commutes are honking and merging. One who arrive home each evening exhausted from the effort put forth in the day just filed in the “done” column.

I know and love such a one. She enjoyed this day in her quiet spot, watching the silence and breathing in the stillness. She even took a moment to think of me and snapped me a photo to share the moment’s peace.

Don't think you can see the snow actually falling but the silence
How do we see the stillness?...
What is stillness if not absence of movement? 
How can we see what isn't there?
How do we hear silence?... 
What is silence but absence of sound? 
How can we hear what isn't making a sound?

Funny how a snapshot can arrest the flicker of flame and the flutter of snow. Yet, I am certain they are not stopped but active. I know this by the bend of the light — its reaching and grasping for air. And by the blur in the distance, briefly obscured by the wet lattice of flakes.

I know movement, even in its absence, by the evidence of its presence. It invites me to see it and teases me to hear it. It calls me to see and to hear with senses different from those I usually trust.

Stopping me to focus...

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

Psalm 46: 4-6
Even as nations roar and kingdoms crash, there is a place to call Holy.
Can we see it? 
Can we hear it?
... if we stop

Faith is what we hold on with


A friend is fond of saying, “the important thing is holding onto my faith.”

I don’t think we hold onto faith. I believe we hold onto God. Christians do this by holding onto Christ. Faith is what we hold on with.

Some days I have my arms and whole body wrapped around Him. Some days I have only a fingernail hold. And then there are those days when He grabs me by the hair, just as I am falling. Hey, if it’s legal in the NFL, it has to be in God’s playbook, right?

Oh, we put our faith in lots of things. We hold onto them. Perhaps we “believe” in them. The DC area saw a great example of this in RGIII and recently in John Wall with the Washington Wizards. Amazing how one man can make the whole team better, inspire belief, even breathe life into what we’d all given up as dead.

The difficulty comes when an RGIII forgets for a moment that he is not the one who is working the impossible, rather it is God working the impossible through him. God can do this through us on any playing field or any sidelines if we hold onto Him. Or when we are in difficulty, if we let Him hold onto us.

Faith is in the holding. The wisdom comes in knowing what to hold onto.

Giving the leftovers to God


I’ve always had a bit of trouble with this story told in both Matthew and Mark’s gospels of a Canaanite woman who pleads with Jesus for help to save her demon-possessed daughter and ends up begging for even the crumbs from His table. (Matthew 15:22-28)

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

Today I am thinking about how many times this is exactly what I offer my Lord. The crumbs from my table. The leftovers when I’m done with my meal, done with my work, done with my day.

This morning I woke early. I had heard there was a meteor shower that could be viewed before sunrise and the skies would be clear. I stepped out into the cold and the dark of the morning and looked upon the most lovely of twinkling lights. Constellations in every direction. Darkness interrupted by pinpoints of glistening magnificence. Not a meteor to be found, but I stood in awe, surveying the broad expanse of the masterpiece displayed on the canvas of the pre-dawn sky. Every light perfect. Clarity that defies any human light, any human sound, any human thought.

And the words of songs and hymns, of prayers and psalms sprung from …from where? I’m not sure. They were an impromptu offering. I was praising a God who provided this wonder every morning, first thing. Before He attended to anything else. God’s first fruits, just for me, just now.

And here am I, offering Him the crumbs.

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