"You're Beautiful."


Sometimes in the work I do, it can be easy to use all of the solitude time of my mornings honing in on what Jesus has to say through me. I get my coffee, settle in at my desk, and pull out the Scriptures or a book of spiritual reading, opening my heart to where the Spirit is leading me to touch and speak that day in the space where he uses me to do so. 

It can be easy to turn my focus and tune my ears to what Jesus wants to say through me to others rather than hearing what he wants to say to me -- just me.

Today I took time to hear his words for me. 

After sitting at my desk for a while this morning, I took my tumbler of coffee over to the couch and curled up in the crook of it, feeling myself settle my head against the chest of Jesus and just breathe. And listen. 

And here's what I heard him say: "You're beautiful." 

I felt myself smile. It can be so easy to gloss over words like that, you know? To shake our heads and say thank you and then move on. Next! But this morning, I didn't do that. I let myself really receive those words of my Jesus over me. "You're beautiful." 

I let them be true. 

In the exploration we're doing right now at Still Forming, we're going deep into the realities of suffering. Each day, we wade in a little further. Each day, we notice some new, small aspect of it. Each day, we are invited to consider our own suffering and how we might be invited to hold it. 

It's hard work. Holy work. I feel my knees and elbows tremble most days before the prospect of forming into words some new aspect of the truth and possibilities of suffering. I'm so aware of my inadequacy. I'm so aware of this subject's ability to conduct the energy of a live wire. 

And each day, I face my doubts. What if someone is hurt through these words? What if they feel overlooked, unseen? What if they feel their hurts and wounds are minimized in some inadvertent way? What if I miss something in this? 

And so today, Jesus tells me, "You're beautiful." 

Because when holding such a tender, sacred subject as suffering is, that truth is sometimes something I need to hear, and remember.

Learning My Body Like I Once Learned My Heart

Curly tail.

I've been so aware while on this body journey just how "duh" I feel about all of it. And I say "duh" in the sense that I don't know anything

I think about my body, and nothing computes. I think, "I should take care of my body," or "Jesus cares about my body," and then I think, "Why? So what?" 

But then it occurred to me: The way I'm responding to my body is the same exact way I responded to my heart nearly 15 years ago. I didn't know I had a heart, much less any idea what was going on inside of it. I didn't understand why Jesus cared about it. I certainly didn't know how to care for it. 

And so I began the very slow, winding, often-feeling-backwards journey of learning about my heart. 

It took years. And it is by far the best, most precious journey I've ever taken. It's what I prize the most about my life, about my connection to Jesus, and my care for others in their own journeys. 

It took a long time, but I knew it was important. And I was content to be a beginner because I knew that's exactly what I was. (I was a quite stubborn beginner, too! No one could talk me out of what I was trying to learn.)

So here I am. Learning my body like I once learned my heart. Feeling like a complete ineptitude. Feeling like I have no bearing on this whole thing at all. But taking tiny, tiny steps. Experimenting. Wondering. 

And trying to allow myself the grace of being a beginner.

My Daily Bread

Organic in burlap.

Today I'm being reminded that Jesus is my daily bread. He gives me the food of himself, and that is what I give to others. 

I'm so aware of the difference between subsisting on him and subsisting on myself or even the "leftovers" from yesterday or the day before or last week. The difference is subtle, in the way it creeps in. But I've come to notice the difference. 

This is a morning of starting again. Of asking for his grace to cover my errors from yesterday. Of asking his grace to give others what they really need instead of what I sought to give them from myself or even the stale leftovers from another day.

It is a day of receiving his body and blood and taking it into myself, of chewing on it, savoring it, swallowing it, and letting it strengthen, fill up, and nourish me. 

Today is a new day. Today he is, again, my daily bread.

"I Care About Your Body, Christianne."


Last night, as Kirk and I were settling in to listen to the day's Pray as You Go podcast, I was startled to hear the voice of Jesus cut so clearly through my thoughts. 

We were on the shoreline of the beach, picking up right where we'd last left off talking, and the sun was setting slowly against the water's horizon, the water lapping at our feet as we stood there.

"I care about your body, Christianne," he said. 

You do?

It was a statement that made me stop and pay attention. Why? I wanted to know.

I'm sure there are more reasons than one that he cares about my body, but the reason shown to me last night is that I mediate the world through my body. It's what I'm encased in and carry around everywhere as I go about my life.

Jesus showed me that he desires for me to live a long, full, vibrant, and healthy life. He has things he wants for me to do. He has life that he designed for me to live.

For him.

So, it matters what I do with my body. It matters what I feed it -- whether I feed it nutrients or dead empty things. It matters what I do with my muscles and my bones -- whether I tone and strengthen them in fitness or let them languish and become useless and heavy weight or weak, brittle things. 

I don't currently care very well for my body, as I've been sharing here this year. But Jesus does. He cares about it, and he cares how I take care of it, too. 

This may make all the difference in the world.

I Am Still Peter

More moonlight through trees.

Quite a number of years ago, before I married Kirk and still lived in California, my home church offered a special meditation experience on Holy Saturday -- the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the disciples still mourned and sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened, grieving the loss of their Lord. 

The main sanctuary of the church was cleared of everything except six or seven stations set in different areas around the room. The lights in the room were off, except for a few candles lit here and there and some lights shining directly on the life-size wooden cross upon the stage, which was draped in red cloth. 

There was a station for confession, where you could enter a booth and confess your sins to a pastor. There was a station for holding colored glass stones in prayer and then casting them into a bowl of water, as though casting your sins away and trusting they would sink to the bottom of the ocean. There was room on the stairs of the stage, leading up to the cross, where you could kneel or bow and pray for Jesus, or pray for yourself.


There was also a station for meditating on the different figures in the passion story, learning whose reaction to Jesus was most like what your own might be. 

When I sat inside that station, I was surprised to learn that I most identified with Peter. It might make sense to you, given what I wrote recently about my shyness and shame at proclaiming the name of Jesus out loud throughout most of my life, but it was a new moment of insight for me to realize I would have done the exact same thing he'd done: in a moment of truth and persecution, I would have denied my Christ.

When you read the story of Christ's passion, it's so easy to point fingers at Peter, isn't it? That is, until you realize you are him.


And so for many years now, I have held Peter's response to Jesus with great sympathy -- and even gratitude. Jesus loved Peter to the end. He also forgave Peter and still trusted him to lead and shepherd those who followed Jesus. He also used what happened to further Peter along in his needed development. I've been thankful for the breadth of Peter's story because of what it has taught me about the way Jesus also loves me.

But more recently, I would have told you that I believed I'd finally grown past being Peter. 

For instance, a couple weeks ago, in a Sunday morning forum at my church, we were talking about the crucifixion moment. Our rector, Father Rob, asked what our response to that moment might have been if we'd been standing right there before Jesus. What did we think we would have said or done or thought or felt? 

I felt an impulse to grasp Jesus on the leg as he hung there on the cross. Just so he would feel less alone. Just so he could feel the touch of someone who loved him. Just so he could know that someone who loved him was me.

That impulse didn't strike me as very Peter-ish. And so I started to think I had changed. 

And maybe I have.

Trees lighted in dark.

But last night, do you want to know what happened? 

I slept through my alarm clock. 

The alarm clock that had been set for 2:40 a.m. The alarm clock that was set so I could wake, get dressed, and drive to my church for a prayer vigil in which I'd signed up to pray from 3-4 a.m. 

I had signed up a week ago, and I could hardly contain my excitement to participate in this event. There are many observances of Holy Week happening at my church this week, but this prayer vigil seemed like the most special offering of all. What intimacy, what silence, what "being-with-ness" it offered between us and Jesus in his final hours.

Moonlight waters.

But then I slept through my alarm. 

When I awoke at 3:45 and realized I'd missed my slot, I knew in that moment that I was still Peter. And I knew it even more when I stayed in bed the next 45 minutes, vacillating back and forth, drifting between awake and asleep, while trying to decide if I would get out of bed and drive to the church anyway.

But I chose to stay in bed. I chose sleep. Just like Peter did in the garden. 

The rule of thirds and negative space.

I felt so awful this morning at the truth of it. Such remorse. The Jesus I love -- I left him alone. Just like the disciples did. Just like everyone did. I could not even watch with him one hour

But the story doesn't end there. 

I woke at 8:30 a.m. this morning. At five minutes to 9, I decided that I was going to drive over to the church after all and participate in the vigil from 9-10 a.m.

And so I went. 

Shape and negative space.

It wasn't easy to be present to Jesus when I arrived. As glad as I was to have chosen to go, all I could feel was my shame.

When I first arrived, I sat in the far back corner of the chapel, far from the altar and the icon of Jesus. I sat there and felt my humiliation. 

But the longer I sat there, the more aware I became of my distressing need for Jesus. I wanted to confess to him. I wanted to plead before him for his forgiveness and his love. I wanted to say I was sorry. 

Jesus, forgive.

So I went up and knelt before the icon and looked into his eyes -- the eyes in which one eye seems to take in the whole world and the other seems to look right at and through you. I stared at that one eye staring back at me and repented. 

And he reminded me of these words he'd spoken to the religious leaders just days before his death in Jerusalem: 

"What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, 'I go, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father?"

They said to him, "The first." 

-- Matthew 21:28-31

It occurred to me that I was doing his will in being at the vigil after all, even if I'd arrived six hours after I'd originally committed to being there.

It occurred to me that Jesus was glad I was there.

It occurred to me that I'd lived out real repentance in this place of my story -- turning around, going in the opposite direction, choosing the true and good thing. 

I'm thankful for it.

Staying Present to the Difficulty of Holy Week

To read his word.

I've been really surprised by something this week. 

One of my freelance projects right now is a big one: proofread the entire biblical text of the New King James Version of the Bible for a publisher who is putting out a new study Bible this year. I started at Genesis and worked my way through to Esther (about 750 pages) and then, over the weekend, decided to switch to the New Testament and read through the Gospels -- mainly because my most current offering of the Look at Jesus course was getting started this week. 

What I didn't anticipate was how the reading of Matthew -- and specifically the last 10 chapters of it -- would affect me as we entered Holy Week. 

Head of Christ.

I turned to the pages of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem -- otherwise known as Palm Sunday -- on the actual day in this church year that we were celebrating Palm Sunday. It felt so surreal for the recorded history of Christ's life to align so unexpectedly and gently with my own lived life here today. 

And then, as I proceeded to read the account of that last week -- the way Jesus cleared the temple, then confronted the religious leaders who accosted him left and right; the way he sat and taught the disciples what to expect about the end of time and how to live without him there; the way Judas betrayed him in the garden and the disciples fled and then he began the long, lonely road to his death -- as I read all this on Sunday, a deep and gutteral moan began in my stomach, then moved into my chest and out my mouth.

I cried and cried and cried, tears streaming down my face and into my nose and mouth, getting everywhere. 

They crucified my Lord. They abandoned him.

He died. He was killed. He was completely alone.

Stations of the cross.

There were so many poignant moments for me as I sat and read those pages on Sunday that I decided to write them down and reflect upon them every single day this week. (I've been writing them as a series of daily posts on Still Forming this week.)

It's been such a different experience for me to sit with Holy Week in this way. I've not ever done that before. Mostly, I've observed Good Friday and Holy Saturday in intentional, meaningful ways leading up to Easter, but sitting with the full passion week of Jesus is new. 

It has made this week a rather quiet, somber, reflective place inside my heart. 

And I've realized what a good thing this is. Too often, those of us living on this side of the New Testament are quick to get to Easter. We love Easter! It's the foundation of our faith. It's the good news of Jesus made alive again and reigning forever and relieving the burden of all the earth from brokenness, sin, and death. It's the hope of our unending future with God. It's the life we get to live anew right now, here. 

But the week leading up to Easter? It was not an easy one for our Christ. I cannot imagine fully the increasing fear and burden and pain and loneliness and resistance he felt as he approached that fateful hour of his arrest leading to his imprisonment, conviction, and death. It was a week he'd been living toward his whole life. It was the final hour. The moment of truth. 

And he didn't want to go. He did, but he didn't. He was grieved at the fact of it. But he did, in the end, remain steadfast and undeterred. 

He kept being Jesus. 


Jesus asks of his closest disciples in the garden, "Could you not watch and wait with me one hour?" 

I think our attention to Holy Week -- the difficulty of it, the discomfort of it, the lack of resolution it carries when we already know the end of the story -- is a bit like our choosing to watch and wait with Jesus in the way he wished and wanted his disciples to have done. 

Will we watch and wait with him this week? Join me at Still Forming as we seek to be faithful to him in this small way.

I Am Re-Deemed


When I was in seventh grade, I walked around the indoor hallways of my junior high school clutching my three-ring binder tight to my chest, along with my hardbound textbooks, and kept my eyes on the orange-and-black-speckled carpet or gray lockers as I walked, never looking people in the eye. I couldn't have told you why that was, nor could I have found a safe place to admit that it was true, but I remember feeling something like apology for my mere existence each day that I walked those halls.

Have you ever felt this way?

The summer before that seventh-grade year, I'd attended a summer camp with my church in the Angeles National Forest about an hour or so from home. And during that week, I'd inched my way toward the re-dedication of my life to Jesus. It was the first time I'd heard that following Jesus meant inviting him into my heart and making a public profession of my faith. Though I'd always known Jesus and had been baptized in the fourth grade at my church, something about this felt different. 

On the last night of camp, I went forward in the decision for re-dedication. 

And a few weeks later, when I entered the halls of my junior high, I promptly allowed myself to become invisible. 

Light and shadows.

I remember that the theme for that summer camp week was "Fight the Good Fight." The population of the camp had been divided into four teams, and we played various competitive games throughout the week -- pool games, obstacle courses, etc.

I was on the magenta team. 

I took the magenta-colored team shirt I'd been given home with me from camp -- it had the camp theme graphic for "Fight the Good Fight" emblazed in neon yellow and orange on the front -- and I wore it often, feeling that the wearing of it was part of my public profession of faith in Jesus. 

But when I walked the hallways at school, I covered up the front of the shirt by clutching that three-ring binder and those heavy textbooks to my chest. 

Curtains in shadow and light.

Sometime in my seventh- or eighth-grade year, the youth pastor's wife at my church asked to interview me for the youth newsletter. She called me at my house and asked me many questions about myself and my faith that I can no longer remember. 

But one question, I do remember. 

"What is your favorite verse?" she asked. 

And I told her it was Matthew 5:11-12. It reads: 

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I was not someone who talked openly, much less boldly, about my faith with those outside my circle of friends at church, and so it is quite interesting to me that I named my favorite verse as one that speaks of being blessed through persecution. 

I was so afraid of persecution, and so I hid my faith from others outside my faith.

A spot of light.

From where I stand today, in a relationship with Jesus that has become more precious to me than I can express and living out a vocational calling that asks me to stay close and present Christ, it makes sense to me that the areas in which I carried so much shame -- in being free to be who I really am and in sharing my life of faith with others -- would be the same places Jesus would come in and heal me and then seek to use me. 

He is calling me to be visible now, and he is asking me to share him with others. 

Enamored with light.

I have felt such a greater sense of breaking open in this way over this last year. 

Really, I think the breaking open began in 1998, when I first asked God to teach me my need for grace and my need for Jesus. That's when my journey into the truth of my heart began and when my journey of healing began. That's when Jesus began to teach me about my de-formities and began to re-form my heart in truth.

Slowly, over the last fourteen years (has it really been fourteen years?!), I have seen Jesus come near and make himself known to me. I have experienced his healing touch upon my wounds in so many ways. And in that healing, he has set me free to love others with an increasing love. 

This last year, though, has been one of increasing freedom to live out loud. 

I shared the beginning of this "living out loud" journey when I took my 5-day silent retreat last May. There was a moment of recognition of lived dissonance -- of being my true self in safe places but hiding that self in circles where I didn't think my true self would be welcome. 

"I'm in love with Jesus," I told a friend right before I went on my retreat. "That's simply who I am." 

And ever since then, Jesus has been setting me free to simply live the truth of that and offer it to others. 

A quiet morning.

Last Wednesday night, Kirk and I attended a Lenten study at All Saints, where we've been making our way through Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. On that evening, we were discussing the practice of lectio divina -- a way of reading the scriptures for transformation rather than information -- and we practiced lectio divina together using a passage from Isaiah 43: 

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, 

And He who formed you, O Israel:

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name;

You are Mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.

When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,

Nor shall the flame scorch you.

For I am the Lord your God,

The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

I gave Egypt for your ransom,

Cush and Seba in your stead.

Since you were precious in My sight,

You have been honored,

And I have loved you."

We were invited to pay attention to the word or phrase that jumped out at us during the first reading of this passage, and then we walked through several more readings of the passage and were invited to interact with God in prayer regarding the word or phrase that had been given to us. 

Redeemed was the word given to me in that reading. 

In the time of reflection built into that time of reading, as I turned the word over and over on my tongue and kept tasting it, I noticed something about that word for the very first time: 

Redeemed = re-deemed

I thought of the ways the word "re-deemed" would be used. We often hear the word "deemed" used in the sense that something or someone is deemed worthy of something -- that they are accounted worthy of the grace or blessing or honor being bestowed upon them. 

When someone or something is "re-deemed," then, it would imply that a period of veering from a person or thing's original purpose had happened. A lived dissonance, perhaps, had entered in, and the "re-deeming" would only come about once a process of being reconstituted and re-formed into one's original purpose had happened. 

I have been "re-deemed," God showed me.

That seventh-grade girl who clutched her notebook and textbooks to her chest so tight, walking in shame down those hallways and hiding the truth of her love for Jesus, has been reconstitued and re-formed into the person she really is, bearing the name of Jesus. 

Thanks be to God for his grace. 

Inhabiting My Real Self

Me. Today. (It's a head scarf kind of day.)

Here I am.

Yesterday in a session with my spiritual director, Elaine, I became aware of a dynamic in me that amounts to the equivalent of living outside myself. I wrote about this dynamic a bit on Still Forming today, comparing the experience to "what if?" clouds and pretzels

When I pay attention to the "what if?" clouds, I'm living in the future -- the possibility of something that might happen -- and it affects my right-now reality because I start preparing and obsessing over how to prevent disasters that may never, in fact, happen. 

And that's when the pretzel contortions come in. I'm not inhabiting my real self there, either -- I'm twisting and turning and curving into whatever shape I think other people might expect or want or demand. 

New haircut -- I went short!

This is me. 

And now, here I sit, wondering if this all somehow connects to the body series I've been writing this year in some unexpected way.

I keep having this image of not living in the throes of the "what if?" clouds and not becoming a pretzel in response, and it's an image that takes the form of standing up straight and inhabiting my real self and body. This morning, that took the form of continuing to walk with Jesus on the beach in the way that we do these days, just being myself with him and agreeing to live openly and in risk for the things he is asking and calling me to do. 

Standing up straight and inhabiting my real body. 

Maybe the dynamic of clouds and pretzels in my life is connected to my lifelong existence of not caring for my body in any real, substantive way. If I choose to inhabit my real self, then maybe caring for my real body will come along as a greater priority and desire in my life, too.

Such an interesting new thing to ponder.

Some Thoughts on the Body I've Been Holding

This is my world.

I mentioned in my last post in the body series that God's first response to my prayer to learn how he views my body and to teach me how to view it, too, was to give me a freelance assignment of editing a health book and that this led to writing down my health goals for 2012. 

The second way God responded was to give me another work-related assignment. 

I was at my dear friend Kirsten's house one day in mid-December, and I happened to check my e-mail on my phone while I was there.

In my inbox, I found an e-mail from the editorial director of one of my favorite magazines. We'd been discussing some possibilities of work I could do for the magazine, and she'd recently invited me to write a 6-part study guide for a book they would be sending to some of their subscribers. She needed some time to decide which book they were going to use, so I'd been waiting to receive word from her on that point.

The day I was at Kirsten's house was the day I found out the book they wanted me to use. And it was, as you might already have guessed, a book about the body. Specifically, it was called Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith

Pretty perfect, no? 

As soon as I read the title of the book in the e-mail, I let out a really loud hoot and then covered my face with my hands. "Of course it is," I said. "Of course that's the book they want me to use." 

My book list is a little out of control.

When I shared with Kirsten what was going on, she walked over to her bookshelf and pulled another body-related book off the shelf. It was called Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality (pictured above in blue), and she said I could borrow it to further help me along in my journey toward understanding the body. 

As it turns out, Kirk and I already owned a copy of that book, and so I decided to take it with us on our holiday trip to California. 

I am so glad I did. 

Time for the morning quiet.

While Kirk and I stayed at a retreat center for three days at the beginning of our holiday, I read the introduction and first chapter of Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality

It totally started blowing my mind, filling me with new thoughts and questions related to the body that I discussed with Kirk and also put down in my new journal. 

Thoughts on the body I've been holding (for a body series I've been writing on my blog).

Below, I've listed out the initial (huge) thoughts that Kirk and the book prompted me to hold, and which I have continued to hold ever since. 

  1. Offered by Kirk: "Everything I know about you is mediated through your body." Even though we know each other at a soul-deep level, we only learned that could be the case through interactions our bodies mediated in the first place (talking, e-mailing, holding hands, enjoying experiences together, intimacy, etc.). 
  2. Furthermore, it is only through the body that we know anyone. I know all of my friends through their bodies -- their voices, their facial expressions, their mannerisms, what they choose to share with me in conversation or things they write. 
  3. God encased all of creation in a body of some sort (ie., matter). There is something about created matter and bodies that God saw fit to make. And this got me wondering: What is "good" about matter and our bodies?
  4. To become like us, Christ had to assume a body. There is something fundamentally human about having a body. 
  5. A question inspired by the book: Do we "have" a body, or "are" we a body? The book offered this quote by Stephanie Paulsell: "Such is the mystery of the body. Sometimes we know that we are our bodies, that our capacity for life and death makes us who we are. At other times, we feel that we simply inhabit a vessel that is inadequate to contain all that we are." 
  6. And perhaps the most transformative question that I encountered of all: Are our bodies meant to experience formation, just like our souls are? 

That last question is one I've been carrying with me for two months now.

From a simple line in the book ("being transformed and glorified in [our bodies]"), I started thinking about spiritual formation and how intensely and single-mindedly I focus on and care about the formation of our hearts, souls, and minds. 

But what about our bodies? Maybe our bodies are also meant to form over time.

And if so, what shape are they meant to take?

It's a question that's kind of been blowing my mind ever since, and totally rocking my world.

Paying Attention to God's Signs

Today. Me.

Self-portrait, January 2012

So, I mentioned in a previous post that once I asked God to teach me how he wants me to view my body, he began to answer my prayer.

I shouldn't have been surprised by that, but I was. 

And the first two times it happened, I laughed out loud.

(As you know, the third time it happened, I apologized to my body for the first time in my life.)

Healthy snack.

Here's how God got my attention the first time: through my work. 

You may or may not know that in my paid working life, I'm a freelance book editor. This means that a variety of different book publishers contact me when they have a manuscript that needs copyediting or a book that needs proofing just before it uploads to the printer.

(Sidenote: I absolutely love that my professional history over the last 12 years now affords me the opportunity to work from home on projects like this. Every book is different from the next, and I always learn so much from each one.) 

The nature of being a freelancer is that I don't often have a lot of context for the books I'm going to edit until they reach my inbox. But shortly after I prayed that prayer -- it may even have been the very next project sent my way -- I received a health book to edit. 

That's right: a health book. 

So I laughed. 

And then I paid attention. 

A declaration.

One little gem in particular jumped off the page of that book and lodged itself in my being, and that was this: to write down, with pen and paper, my personal commitment to my health journey -- and to specifically detail what that commitment would look and what I would gain from adhering to it. 

So I cracked open my brand-new 2012 planner, which I'd just purchased, and turned to the very last page. And I wrote the following: 


I want to lose 25 pounds so that I can feel comfortable in my clothes, feel comfortable in my body, feel attractive to Kirk, feel strong, and not have to expend mental or emotional or physical energy worrying about how I look. 

In writing this, I realized something I'd never realized before: I spend a lot of time and energy thinking and feeling things related to my body.

Every day when I get dressed, I'm aware that my body is not what I want it to be. Every time I look in my closet, I'm aware of the clothes I can no longer wear. Every Sunday morning, I'm reminded how few Sunday dress clothes fit me anymore. Every day when I leave the house, I'm aware I don't feel attractive. Every time I pass a mirror, I'm aware of every shape and contour of my body visible to me. 

And that's just for starters. 

So the next thing I did was get specific with a plan.

My health goals for 2012.

My primary intent for the plan was this: 

Be realistic and gentle.

I wasn't interested in going from zero to sixty in three seconds flat. I was interested in gentle changes that I would realistically incorporate into my life. 

Things like choose water instead of soda. Or eat a piece of fruit at least once a day. Or take myself out on a photo walk three times a week for 30 minutes. (Photography has become such a nurturing and integrated part of my life these last six months, I figured that a creative photo walk was one gentle way I could motivate myself out of the house to walk a few times per week.)

I set very gentle goals for the first four months of this year, then broke the rest of the year into two more sections and slowly graduated my commitments -- with one caveat:

Only hold myself to the graduated commitment if the previous commitment has become a normal part of my daily life by that point.

Strawberry-banana-peanut-butter smoothie. Just add ice!

A current favorite:

strawberry-banana-peanut-butter smoothie.

Just add ice! 

So far this year, things have really improved on the consumable goods front. I haven't had soda all year! And I've eaten at least one fruit per day this month, if not more. I'm in the habit of eating oatmeal for breakfast and usually a snack of string cheese or almonds or apple slices with peanut butter or a fruit smoothie at some point during the day.

But the photo walks have been slower to come along. So far this year, I've only taken one walk. 

It's feeling really good to feed my body better food. I like asking myself each day, "Did you eat your one fruit?" and smiling when I notice that I already did. I like that my normal snack foods are sources of better nutrients for me. I like that all of this is becoming habit. 

Slowly, slowly, treating my body well is becoming something I choose -- gladly -- to do.

Toward a Theology of the Body

Archangel Michael.

The thing about this body stuff is that I had no motivation whatsoever to do anything about the problem. Yes, I hated the way my body had changed. Yes, it completely befuddled and bewildered me. Yes, I knew that the tools for change were right at my fingertips.

But nothing I thought about or pursued went deep enough for me. No amount of information or even discomfort in my own skin was enough to propel me into action.

Over the last five years, I have tried so many thoughts, admonitions, truths, and experiments on for size in trying to face the reality of the changes in my body.

When Kirk and I first got married, for instance, I worked full-time as an associate book editor for a publishing company that published health books under one of its imprints. Through editing books under that imprint, I gained a lot of great information about how to live in health -- drink lots of water, eat fresh whole foods, exercise, and so on -- and so for a while I faithfully brought my bottles of water and bags of almonds and carrots to work with me for a midday snack. I tried working out at the gym, first on the elliptical trainer and then by swimming laps in the pool, and then later by trying yoga classes, Zumba classes, and even a class called Boot Camp. 

None of these things stuck, and I'm convinced today that it's because the motivation simply didn't reach deep enough for me.

I was doing these things because I felt I was supposed to, not because I was deeply convinced it was the right thing to do or because I really wanted to do them. I was doing them because I felt ashamed of my body and knew that the shame would continue if I didn't get a handle on what was happening with my body.

I also knew that some people get motivated by the science and the numbers of it all. There's the reality of biology -- that a correct blend of protein, carbohydrates, and fat is optimum for the human body. And there's the reality of math -- that consumable items carry calories and that the amount of calories consumed minus the amount of calories burned will result in either gaining or losing weight. 

But the science and math just didn't matter or stick. It felt like a tennis ball bouncing off a racquetball court wall. I was completely unmoved, and I really didn't care about those things -- no matter how true they were.

So, what to do? 

This is where the conversation with Elaine in my spiritual direction session comes into play. I shared all these things with her -- told her the background with my body and how it had changed, told her the motivation simply wasn't there, and yet I still was left with this problem with my body.

I just didn't know what to do.

On the one hand, it seemed like part of the problem was the way I viewed my body that had changed on me. I resented it, and it seemed like that resentment wasn't the best possible view to have of my body. Perhaps acceptance was part of what needed to come into this situation quite a bit more.

But I also knew the way I physically lived inside my body was not in line with what science or math taught about what the body needed. Even if I learned to better accept my body in its current state, that current state was still not healthy. 

And that's where the motivation aspect mattered. 

We wondered aloud what motivation would really make a difference. Was there anything that would get down deep enough? 

That's when I recognized the only thing that would matter enough to change my view of my body was to come to understand why my body really mattered to God. Not in a shame-inducing, "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit!" kind of way, but in a real and deep-down way of understanding that was rooted in my relationship with him. 

And so, even though it took me a couple tries to be able to pray this prayer from an honest and heartfelt place -- even though I didn't want to say these words at all when Elaine first invited me to talk to God about it -- eventually, I was able to say to God in spirit and truth: "Help me learn how to view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it." 

I am so far from understanding these things, and I have such a long way to go. But at least the initial steps have been taken, and I'm aware this is something I'm in the process of learning and discussing with God.

A Conversation with My Body

Joshua tree.

Enjoy some photos of Joshua Tree National Park

that I took as part of our holiday vacation while you read. :-) 


So, in the wee hours of the morning that transitioned New Year's Eve to New Year's Day, I vomited for the first time in my life since I was 7 years old. 

And I did it five times in succession. 

It was a violent introduction to an illness that would render me in the most miserable state I have ever experienced in my body, and it lasted 4 days.

Lots of these cute fuzzies, called cholla cactus, in Joshua Tree.

The timing of this violent illness was not lost on me. In fact, I consider it a grace to have happened, even as miserable as it was. 

And here's why.

In mid-November, in a session with my spiritual director, Elaine, the conversation took a surprising turn toward a discussion of the body -- and specifically, my body. It wasn't something I planned to discuss with her, nor did I see it coming when it came, but I had known for quite some time that eventually we would need to enter that territory and talk about it.

Fuzzy cactus, found in Joshua Tree National Park.

Here's the skinny on my story about my body so that I can bring you up to speed. 

I grew up with a super-high metabolism and never worried one bit about what I ate until I was 25 years old. When I moved to college, I gained only two pounds and felt proud to have avoided the dreaded "freshman 15." I sincerely loved being small and petite and loved being able to fit into any clothes I wanted and to eat any food. 

I ate like a bird, but what I ate was absolutely not nutritious in the slightest. At one point in my twenty-fifth year, I noticed that I was practically subsisting on Jack-in-the-Box tacos, Dr. Pepper, and Hot Tamales. But since I hardly ate anything, it didn't seem to matter. I was thin, and I loved not having to worry about it. 

Joshua tree.

But something changed on my honeymoon in Europe with Kirk in 2006.

It's something that I think had been slowly changing for several months beforehand, actually, and the thing that changed is that I no longer ate like a bird. 

Something about being with Kirk made me feel safe and secure and loved. I felt able to rest. And I felt especially able to celebrate life with him.

So on our honeymoon, celebrate we did. I must say, I reveled in the delicious fare that Paris had to offer, in particular. There's a restaurant I will never forget where I ate the most incredible risotto of my life. We drank wine and ate pasta, and we always -- always -- ordered dessert.

And when we returned from our honeymoon, the celebratory approach to food that I'd adopted with him continued. 

Another joshua tree from the archives.

I gained 10-15 pounds on our honeymoon. It sounds incredible, but it's true. And I really didn't know what to do about it.

The reason is, I've never learned how to care for my body. I don't know what it means to take care of the physical fibers of my being. I never had to worry about it, and so I never learned, and once my lifestyle completely changed -- and my body with it -- it took a long time for me to face the reality that things had permanently changed in the body department for me. I kept denying my body was no longer able to ingest whatever I gave it without so much as a stumble. 

But it had changed. Incredibly. And I had no idea what to do about it. 

Dry rocks.

The truth is, too, that I didn't have much motivation to do anything about it. I simply didn't care to take care of my body. I considered my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me -- make me look good, and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume -- and when it stopped doing that, I had nothing to say to it, except maybe bad and exasperated sentiments.

So the last five and a half years have been a very confusing and frustrating ride -- a vascillation between denial and fear continually.

Which leads me to the conversation that cropped up with Elaine in November. I didn't want to talk about it, but there it was -- the issue with my body had slipped out of my mouth without my intending it, and the invitation to talk more about it was there. 

I'll share more about the content of our conversation and my reluctance to do anything new to care for my body in my next post on the subject, but for now I will share that by the end of our session, I was able to tell God the most honest thing: "Help me to learn how you view my body, and help me learn how you want me to care for it."

And another.

Which is why the physical illness that landed me on the tile of the bathroom floor at 4 in the morning on New Year's Day was not lost on me. We'd taken my dad and his wife to a very nice dinner for New Year's Eve, and immediately following the dinner, I felt it had been a mistake. At least, I felt that I'd made a mistake: I ate too much food. Incredibly rich food. Way too much rich food.

All the way home from our very enjoyable evening, I felt a pressure in my abdomen that would not subside. We rang in the new year with my sister and played some games at the kitchen table, and all the while, the pressure in my stomach was there and I felt pretty low. I went to bed, but by 3 a.m., I was moaning and tossing in my bed, still feeling incredibly bad. 

An hour later, I vomited five times. The next 12 hours are among the most miserable hours of my life, and the 24 following that were pretty miserable too. In all, the illness lasted 4 days and this is the first day I've actually felt like a real human being again.


By now, I've learned that I contracted a stomach virus -- not food poisoning, and not indigestion, as I originally thought -- but at the time it happened, the way I felt was so closely connected to that last meal that I'd had, and all I could say to my body for the first 12 hours of my illness was, "I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry." Over and over again. Repentance. Repentance.

I simply could not -- and still cannot -- fathom eating a rich meal like that again. The sickness took me one step closer to a willingness to treat my body better. 

This illness was actually the third sign offered in the course of a few weeks in answer to my prayer that God would teach me what it means to honor and care for my body. I'll be sharing this ongoing journey here with you -- what the struggle to care for my body has been like for me, what the other signs in response to my prayer have been, and what I'm learning as I continue to journey forward.

In all of this prayer and talk about the body, I trust there is something redemptive and grace-filled to be found and learned for me. In fact, it has already begun.

Perhaps there'll be something in this prayer and body conversation for you, too.



Reflections on a Spiritual Retreat (Part 3 of 3): Scenes from Our Stay

Of course, given my emerging love for photography this past year, photos were a large component of the way I experienced the spiritual retreat.

One of the first things we did upon arriving at the center, in fact, was to take a photo walk in order to explore the grounds and enjoy the last hour of light in the day. (I believe photographers call it the "golden hour" because the light from the sun as it glances on the earth is just perfect during that time of day.) And I took photo walks a couple other times during our stay on the grounds. Those photo walks are among my favorite memories of our time there.

So below, I've shared a glimpse of the experience of the retreat in pictures for you. Enjoy. :-)

Beauty in light.

Beauty in light. 

Come. Sit.

Come and sit. Rest.

Art in the wild.

Art in the wild.

Time for the morning quiet.

Time for the morning quiet. 

Come and enter in.

Come and enter in.

Sun-drenched foliage.

Sun-drenched foliage.

That I would adore Christ.

That I would adore him.

Bougainville in light.

Bouganvillia in light.

Through a doorway.

Through a doorway.



Reflections on a Spiritual Retreat (Part 2 of 3): Nouwen & Merton

Bedside at the hermitage.

Bedside at the hermitage

While staying at the Immaculate Heart Center for Spiritual Renewal, you have two options for lodging. The first option is to stay in the main house with the sisters and other residents and take your meals with them each day. The second option is to stay in a hermitage on the property and take care of your own meals through the purchase of your own supplies and the use of the hermitage kitchen. 

We opted to stay in the hermitage this year. 

Through a door.

Small writing room adjacent to our room at the hermitage

On the first full morning of our stay, Kirk met with the spiritual director who lives at the center. Her name is Joann, and she has belonged to the Immaculate Heart community for 50 years (!). She is a dear, dear heart. 

During the course of their visit together, Kirk learned a number of unusual and amazing facts about the retreat center. 

Such as the fact that Henri Nouwen once stayed in the very same hermitage where we stayed! He came for a week and brought a driver and a young member of the L'Arche community with him, and the three of them stayed together in the little house on the property where we also stayed. 

Amazing. I consider Henri Nouwen one of my spiritual fathers, and it was pretty incredible to consider that we were staying in the same place he did during our time there. I can imagine he made use of the little writing room off our room. 

We're staying at a retreat center the next few days, and this is the tiny little writing room that's part of our room at the hermitage.

Can't you see Nouwen sitting here and writing each day? 

The next story Joann related to Kirk is that Thomas Merton had also stayed at the center, in the main house, in 1968 ... just before he left to Bangkok, Thailand. 

If you are familiar with the life of Thomas Merton, you know that his fateful trip to Thailand was one of the most anticipated and treasured of his life. He was to attend an interreligious dialogue of monks there, and it took a very long time for him to secure permission from his abbot to leave the community at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Louisville, Kentucky, and travel across the world to attend such a conference at all. 

While there, after giving his paper at the conference, Merton was electrocuted by an electric fan in his bathroom and died. 

Room 1, where Merton stayed.

Room 1, where Merton stayed prior to leaving the States for the Bangkok conference.

Merton, too, is someone I consider to be one of my spiritual fathers, perhaps even more dear and instructive to my life of faith than Nouwen is today. To learn that he had stayed on the grounds and at such a momentous point in his life's journey was ... well, it was humbling and awe-inspiring, to say the least. 

Next time we return to the retreat center, we may see if Room 1 is available for our stay. (Wouldn't you?!)

Reflections on a Spiritual Retreat (Part 1 of 3): The Labyrinth


We spent the last three days at a spiritual retreat center in Montecito, California, and it was such a beautiful, refreshing time away. We both greatly anticipated the time we would spend there, especially since it was situated at the very beginning of our scheduled vacation. Three days of retreat seemed like such a fitting way to officially enter into a period of rest. 

Over the next couple days, I'll be sharing with you some snippets from our time, the first being my experience walking the labyrinth on the property. 

He will take you there.

The first thing I noticed after I struck out on the path of stones that led to the labyrinth's entrance was that the path of stones was part of the journey. I had started out walking them quickly, anticipating getting to the official opening of the labyrinth, only to realize that I'd already begun the journey.

So I stopped, turned around, and went back to the beginning. 


I stood for several minutes on the very first stone. 

It was flat, firm, solid, and flanked by two tall stones on each side. I felt an immediate connection to Jesus -- the one who has been with me always. I often say that I don't have any memories of my early years that didn't include an awareness of Jesus being there with me. That very first stone stood for my entrance into the world, my very first years, and it was supported by Jesus -- firmly -- on both sides. 

He has been my ever-present and firm foundation.

I gave thanks. 

My path to the labyrinth.

I continued along the opening pathway of stones in a slow and prayerful way, stopping every step of the way with both feet upon each stone, very mindful of the memory or moment or series of events in my first nineteen years of life that each stone symbolized for me. 

I remembered my first communion in the Catholic church ... and gave thanks. 

I remembered attending mass each Sunday, and also CCD classes in the evenings during the week ... and gave thanks. 

I remembered three key events in my young, elementary-school-age life that marked and changed me in significant ways. These are difficult memories, moments I wish weren't there. They scarred me and fashioned much of the person I would become. But they also paved the way for my later formation, and they gave me a more compassionate heart for others who've been hurt. I gave thanks. 

I considered my family of origin: large, Irish-Catholic, loud. So often I felt like an oddball, one lone and introverted girl sitting in the corner, reading her books. So often I felt like the silent observer, watching the interactions and trying so hard to learn the rules. This, too, formed me in ways I never realized it did at the time. It is still an area that intends to teach me more. I gave thanks. 

I considered my parents: the people they are, the love they've always had for me, the ways in which their particular lives and stories formed mine. I thought of the ways I have grown to know and understand them better than I used to, and yet how they will always -- just like every other person on this planet -- be a mystery beyond my full knowledge. I gave thanks. 

I remembered the new church we began attending when I was nine and the ways it taught me about Jesus, andI gave thanks. 

I recalled my junior high and high school youth group experiences and how they, too, formed me deeper into the life of God and the church. I gave thanks. 

I thought of my first real, significant relationship. I noticed the painful memories and yet how significant a portion of my story that relationship is. I remembered the healing work I have done regarding it, as well as the forgiveness work, andI gave thanks. 

I remembered a particularly painful memory from my sixteenth year and honored the repentant moment that arose in me. I confessed my remorse. I told God how much I wished I could change that memory and that moment. I acknowledged that I couldn't. I accepted his absolution, andI gave thanks. 

A new threshold.

Then I came to the threshold of the labyrinth, the beginning of the maze that was and is my continual and intentional formation. 

That threshold symbolizes the moment in my nineteenth year when I asked God to teach me about grace and about Jesus, and to teach me my need for both. 

Ever since then, my life has been turned upside-down as he has been turning it right-side up. 

Where I came from.

It was rather momentous to step onto that labyrinth's path and then turn and look back at the place from which I'd come. All those moments. All those memories. All those misinterpretations of truth and of my worth and value. 

Each one of them forming a piece of my inner life's work from that momentous point forward. 

So I walked, and turned, and turned some more. And as I walked, I mentally walked through the years that followed that prayer at age nineteen. Nineteen ... twenty ... twenty-two ... twenty-three ... twenty-five. So many moments. So many memories. So many reinterpretations of truth and of my worth and value. 

Occasionally, a turn in the path would occur at the same moment I was remembering a real turn in my story, and so I would stop in the midst of that turn and remember, and acknowledge, and give thanks, and then continue. 

See your way home.

I recall reaching the outermost layer of the labyrinth just as my mental walk turned to the entrance of Kirk into my life.

I stopped at the corner of that outermost layer's turn and remembered: the early conversations by e-mail, the honest and frank admissions of where we stood, the deeply beautiful letters and gifts and cards sent across the miles, the phone calls and visits ... each moment of our courtship so deeply honoring and beautiful and true. I married an honorable man. 

I gave thanks. Deep, deep thanks. 

And then continued walking, this time with a noticeable lightness to my step -- a swing, almost, to it -- and a smile on my face. Our life together is a place where I've experienced the gift of being invited and encouraged to be myself. I have come more and more into myself in my life with Kirk. He has truly been God's greatest gift to me, next to Jesus.

I gave thanks. 

With Christ in the center.

And then I reached the final turn toward the middle. This is the place in my journey where I currently am: walking directly into the heart of Christ with every bit of intention and wholehearted love I can muster. 

I reached the center, knelt down, and bowed to him. 

An altar of rocks was there, and I knelt looking at it. My life, an offering to you, I told him.

And I gave thanks.

Falling in Love with the Eucharist

Altar cross.

Do you want to know something that's really surprised me? How much I've come to crave -- and actually depend -- on the eucharist of late.

I've never felt this way about communion before.

In fact, a couple months ago, we had dinner with some friends, and the husband was telling us that the eucharist is the central focus of the liturgy. It's the ultimate reason we gather together, he said. Everything in the service is in service to that moment when the bread and wine are consecrated and each baptized Christian is presented with the body and blood of Christ -- the bread of heaven, the blood shed for you and for me. 

Our friend drew my attention to the fact that the other elements of the liturgy -- the readings, the sermon, the hymns, even the celebrant -- may change, but the blessing of the bread and wine remains the same. The offering of Christ's body to take, eat, and receive into ourselves remains the same always. 

At the time of the conversation, I didn't really relate to what our friend had said. At the time, I was caught up in my enjoyment and delight in certain other elements of the service, none of which had much to do with the eucharist at all. I enjoyed the teaching of our rector, Father Rob. I loved the slow pace and reverent tenor of the contemplative eucharist service we faithfully attend on Sunday nights -- the low lights and candles lit, the sights and smells, the sacred chant and extended silences.

But in the last few months, I've noticed a shift.

Now it is the eucharist I crave. Now it is the bread and wine -- the taking of Jesus into myself over and over again -- that I need more of. Now it is the Christ that I worship and adore that I want inside of me, more and more, forever and ever, amen.

Apprenticed to Following Jesus

My meditation.

My current meditation.

Earlier today, I was telling Jesus that I scarcely know how to talk about what he has come to mean to me. Thirteen years ago, I asked God to teach me what Jesus has to do with me, and that prayer started me on a very intentional, though often difficult and painful journey into the life and faith I currently hold: one that is awestruck, dumbstruck, and lovestruck by Jesus and utterly helpless without him.

I don't quite know how to articulate this in all its fullness without writing out the complete story in its entirety, which would literally take hundreds of pages.

Since that is not possible here, I'm left feeling quite inadequate in all my articulation. I feel a bit like Zechariah, gesticulating wildly to a reality so utterly beyond all comprehension and all speech, looking in the end like a fool to those trying to understand his gesticulations (although I hope my wild gesticulations and paltry articulations are not to do with any lack of faith on my part, which was the case with Zechariah!).

Do you love Me?

So my prayer this morning was that Jesus would help me to simply see and hear and follow him.

If he wants me to speak or write about him, my prayer is that he will give me the words. If he wants me to teach about him, my prayer is that he will help me to compose a structured experience that is fitting for the students and is worthy of him. If he wants me to step out in some new way, my prayer is that I will step only in the direction he leads.

I am learning in a very new, intent way right now what it means to follow Jesus. 

For instance, he's been asking me questions like, "Do you love me more than these?" Or when I point in this or that direction, he then asks me, "What is that to you?" And then he says again and again, "You -- follow me." 

Bright sky.

In this, I'm reminded of what happened to Peter, James, and John when Jesus took them into the mountains on the day of his Transfiguration. There, they saw Jesus enfoldeded in a great light and talking with Moses and Elijah. They hardly knew what to make of it, and Peter, overwhelmed and confused by all of it, began suggesting things to do, like building monuments to the three of them.

But then a great cloud overshadowed them all, and they heard a voice from heaven calling Jesus the beloved son. The next moment, they looked around and saw "nothing but Jesus, only Jesus." 

I want only to see Jesus, too. I want only to follow him where he may lead. And it is my prayer that he gives me the eyes to see and the ears to hear him when he tells me what to do and where to go. May he teach me to "take not a single step without him, and to follow with a brave heart wherever he leads."

Giving Thanks for the Fathers

When I step inside All Saints, I can breathe.

As Kirk and I have been drawn to All Saints church over the last five years, it has been, in large measure, because of the affinity we felt toward the rector of the church, Father Rob. He is a man who cares deeply about transformation, who thinks intently and reads widely, and who also has a particular gift for teaching.

It seemed every time we visited the church on a sporadic basis the last five years, Father Rob would mention a book or an author we had also come to love or would teach on a subject that was near and dear to our own hearts. Kirk and I would leave these services shaking our heads, amazed and grateful to have found such a kindred spiritual soul so close to home.  

It is also significant that Father Rob initiated the institution of the Celtic contemplative service that we began attending on Sunday nights in June. That is the service that led us, ultimately, to greater and greater involvement at the church to the point of deciding it is the place we are meant to stay.

It is not too much of a stretch, therefore, to say that our affection for this church all along has had a lot to do with our admiration and respect for Father Rob and his spiritual leadership of the church and of us.

Holy space.

But it wasn't until more recently than we began to connect with the other two men who also assist in leading this church, Father Stephen and Father Russell. 

Father Russell is in charge of the ministries having to do with pastoral care at the church, and when I recently signed up to indicate my interest in becoming a Stephen Minister at the church, Father Russell was the one to follow up with me.

Since I am new to the church, he invited me to meet with him in person for a chat so that he could get to know me and my interest in this particular ministry. 

I was really touched by the time Father Russell spent with me that day. We talked about Stephen Ministry, yes, and I shared with him my background and care for companioning with people. But we also talked about many other things. We talked about grief and what it is like to walk alongside someone experiencing a great loss. We talked about All Saints and the journey Kirk and I have been making more recently to explore the episcopal tradition. We talked about some of the ways the Anglican/Episcopal tradition differs from other traditions in the greater church body. 

And when I left my time with Father Russell that day, I noticed that I carried a smile on my face. I found myself wondering how long it had been since I'd spent an hour in the office of someone I consider to be one of my pastors, just dialoguing and asking questions and sharing insights and generally being given a chance to be known and get to know. It felt like such a privilege.

Peter and John.

Father Stephen, on the other hand, is teaching the 9-month catechumenate class Kirk and I take on Wednesday nights. He, too, like Father Rob, is a man of great learning. He absolutely loves to teach and seems to particularly enjoy the challenge of a really difficult question being posed to him. I don't know that there is any question you could ask Father Stephen about the history of the scriptures or the church that he hasn't already considered in some measure, and I have come to love knowing he is someone I can turn to with my questions. 

Just this past Wednesday night, in fact, I carried a list of four questions up to the front of the room when our catechumenate class ended and asked Father Stephen if he wouldn't mind taking some time to answer them for me. Two of them had to do with things he had mentioned during the class -- questions about the resurrection of Jesus versus the resuscitation of Lazarus, and about seeming contradictions between some of the gospel stories -- but the others were more general faith questions about the episcopal tradition. 

Father Stephen spent 45 minutes with me after class that night. And when, as I left, I thanked him for the generosity of his time, he said that I would be welcome to call, to stop by his office, or even to schedule time to meet for coffee if I had more questions I wanted to talk through with him some more. 

When I walked out to my car that night, a smile played upon my lips a second time. Here again, I had found myself utterly supported and encouraged by a person standing in a place of spiritual leadership in my life right now. I never expected to find this particular kind of gift through our journey into the greater life of All Saints Church, and yet suddenly there are three spiritual fathers in my life -- our life -- each one of them increasingly dear in their own special way.

I gave thanks on that night for these three new spiritual fathers in our life, and I continue to find myself giving thanks for them yet again each day. 

So, About that Village . . .


A place that makes me very happy

Do you remember my story about the image of the village? 

It happened in mid-February of this year. I'd just discovered that God was inviting me to take a journey with him through an unknown woods. I was humbled by the invitation, but also pained. It meant saying goodbye to life as I'd known it in some ways. It came before I was ready to say yes. 

A few days after the invitation into the woods presented itself, I had a session with my spiritual director, Elaine. I was telling her of my difficulty saying yes to God's invitation, and she posed an interesting question: Do you have any sense of what's on the other side of the woods? 

Well, no. I didn't. 

So she asked, Do you want to ask God what's on the other side? 

I hadn't ever thought to do so, but the idea appealed to me. So I did. I asked him, knowing full well -- and even telling him so -- that he didn't have to show me what was on the other side, that seeing the other side shouldn't be the thing that would make me say yes to entering those unknown woods. But I figured, Why not? If he chooses to show me, awesome. If he doesn't, then I can still work my way through this struggle of saying yes, and I knew eventually I would get to the yes.

And you know what? He chose to show me what was on the other side. That's when he showed me the village

Enter the holy.

All this time, since February, I have wondered about that village. It was so clear in the image that it was a place Kirk and I would enter together, a place and a community that would be a part of both our lives. Jesus and I would travel through the woods together and alone, but on the other side, eventually Kirk would join us and we would encounter the village. 

I had no idea what this "village" would be. But I did know one thing: Kirk and I have prayed for five long years for community. We have wondered at times about starting a house church in our home. At other times, we've prayed about starting a monthly gathering of artists in our home. We have searched and prayed for a place to belong, a group of people with whom we could do life, with whom we could know and be known. 

What we sought was more than friendship. What we sought was a place to belong. 

I had no idea what the village would look like when it emerged in our life, but I can tell you now: we have come upon it and begun to enter in. 


It began in June. 

An episcopal church around the corner from our house, called All Saints, was starting a new contemplative eucharist service on Sunday nights. We'd attended the weekly noonday eucharist service on and off at that church over the last few years, but very intermittently. It was a quiet, sacred service we could attend during the lunch hour now and then, when we had a Wednesday lunch hour free, but our attendance was quite irregular. 

But this contemplative eucharist service, which we also learned would be offered with themes from the Celtic tradition? It sounded like something we would really love. We heard it would be a simple service, offered with long periods of silence, with candles, prayers and quiet music, and with the holy communion, of course.

Sign us up!

We started attending from the beginning and have not missed a single time since it began, I don't think. We love it. It has become a really important part of our weekly routine.

Knock on the door.

We didn't know at the time we began attending the contemplative service in June that All Saints would eventually show itself to be the village from that image God had given me in February. But it has. 

It began with the decision to attend a newcomer's class in late August -- one evening spent getting to know some members of the church and a bit more about what was happening there. We shared during the introduction time that we were just exploring things, that we loved the contemplative service and Father Rob, the rector, but that we weren't episcopalians and had never -- either of us -- belonged to a denomination, and we had no idea what that would even look like or mean. 

That evening, we got to talking with two of the ladies in the group, and one of them mentioned that Father Stephen, one of the assistant rectors at the church, was going to teach a catechumenate class starting in September. A catechumenate class? What in the world was that? We learned it would be a 9-month class teaching an overview of the Scriptures, church history, and the tradition of the episcopal faith. It would culminate, we learned, at Easter with a visit from the bishop and the opportunity to be confirmed in the episcopal church. 

This sounded like a great next step for us. Nine months was a long time to take in the teachings of the church and learn specifically about the episcopal denomination, especially since I couldn't imagine converting to a denomination of Christianity lightly at all. I wanted to understand what that meant. 

Thin space.

So we decided to take Father Stephen's class, and we waited with eager anticipation for the class to begin in September. 

In the meantime, we heard about something called the Rector's Forum. It was a teaching time between services on Sunday morning, led by the rector, Father Rob, whom we have come to truly admire and enjoy. He's a gifted teacher, a holy man, and someone who cares deeply about the process of spiritual formation (as do I!). 

We learned Father Rob would be teaching a series on spiritual direction and sacred rhythms on Sundays for the Rector's Forum starting in September, too, and it was not a difficult decision for us to start attending that too. (Not a difficult decision? We practically ran to the class!)

Stop and rest a while.

And slowly but surely, with each new step we've taken, we have felt drawn further and further in to this church.

Every time we go, people walk up to us and introduce themselves. They're incredibly friendly and warm.

When we attend the Rector's Forum and watch people trickle in, it's clear this is a church of people who have known each other forever -- and truly care for one another. When we attend Father Stephen's class on Wednesday nights, it's clear this is a place of great affection. I can't help but smile when Father Stephen calls on people by name when they raise their hands to ask a question. 

Pew books.

Every once in a while over the last two months, Kirk would ask me, Do you think this is the village? I didn't know. I kept telling him I needed to ask God that question. But for some reason, I kept putting it off. I'm not sure why.

But then something happened.

Kirk started saying some really unusual things. Really beautiful, moving things. Things I had never heard him express about a church or a community of people before. Things that I knew were very intimate admissions of his heart to God and to me. 

It was astounding and marvelous and totally, utterly beautiful. 

Thats when I knew it was time to ask God if this was the village. 

Light of prayer.

When I saw my spiritual director, Elaine, for a session last month, that's one of the questions I brought. I revisited with her the image of the village, and she invited me to bring the question to God.

God, is this the village?

I couldn't help but smile. Each person in that church so unique, each with a different story. Each person offering their own perspective and talents. Old men with wizened beards. Women with difficult struggles not everyone sees but you would see if you really looked at them. Children running and playing, known by all the community. 

These were people I wanted to know. This was a place where I wanted to give as well as receive. This was a place Kirk and I wanted to live together. 

Yes. Yes. Yes. 

This is our village. And we are so thankful to have entered into it. It will change our life, I think, living among these precious people and encountering Christ there among us.