Saturday, October 01, 2011

Between October

October's NABLOPOMO blogging theme is "between". NaBloPoMo is a blogging group that encourages an works to foster daily blogging. If you would like to join in, please visit the NabloPoMo site for prompts, contests and more.

Friday, September 30, 2011

At the crest of the hill

Image found at Starts with a Bang Blog.

Climbing, stretching, pressing on;
we're almost at the point that we've been working towards.
There are lessons along this road that we'd never learn if we stay inside our houses.

What was it that called us out into the streets? Where did this desire to climb come from? How did we get to this place?

One step at a time was how this happened.
Don't become disheartened now -
the downhill is just a few steps away.

We did not get here alone, and we won't get any further that way.

It was the haunting melody of love - Peregrinatio pro amore Dei that wooed us out of our cocoons of self, fear and loneliness.

Keep singing the song of love.
Its the tune you've been learning with each step you take
and its time to share that song with someone else.

T.L. Eastman Sept. 2011

Gifts: Given and still giving

Image from Bestuff.

You turned on the light

"The love you give brings so much light,
like a beacon in the night.
removing the fear and the fright.

Confronting shadows, blacked strife,
defeating death, reviving life,
fanning the ash, defending my heart.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

How can it be I have a life?
How can some good come from such strife?
Something in me can turn out right.
Giving value to the slight.
Fueling dreams, inspiring sight - burning a path to realties might.

Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light

You turned on the light, and made things right
when they were broken and you removed the dark
and lit a spark that was smoldering.

Hearts are breaking, souls are aching,
but you turned on the light.
Lives are changing, hope is gaining -
because You turned on the light."

Words and music T.L. Eastman 2003

Gifts that are given in sincerity and love are ones that we usually remember and cherish the most. Like the mystery gift from my brother or the books of poems from my Grandmother - theses are ones that we can't forget.

Several years ago I was working half time in a church in youth ministry and was asked to consider working another 20 hours a week in a social work program helping kids in need. At that time, I was unsure if I could help kids in really hard circumstances - the additional work hours - and the stress of such difficult and emotional work. I told the director that I'd consider the offer, but I'd like to think about it over the weekend.

It so happened that weekend I was headed to a retreat with some of the youth from my church. All weekend long, I was challenged with the message that God gives us gifts not so that we can store them away in hiding - but so that we can serve Him, the people and opportunities he places in our path. In response to this message, I came away from that weekend inspired to try out working in the social work program, as well as begin working on better learning how to play guitar and develop as a musician.

I prayed a great deal about starting the new job and working on music - both of the challenges seemed impossible for me to fullfil, but I was going to give both of the goals an honest effort.

The work on music was slow, but with each newly learned chord I felt my confidence growing as well as my ability to piece together a few worship songs and eventually being writing a few songs of my own. The music did not develop in a vacuum, and as I began working in the social work program I was amazed to see how that work inspired my music efforts. The two gifts that I felt God asking me to devote some time to were ones that complimented each other in ways I never could have dreamt!

Before to long, I was asked to add some music elements to the social work program and the time I spent working on music for the program helped improve my playing skills so much that I began leading a worship team at my church each week. My connection to mission became fuel for creative efforts and the creative efforts were ones that could be used to help people in the church and also on mission.

After a few months of effort in both areas, I was sitting in my church office thinking about how God was working in the lives of youth in the program and in the church and the words, "It's like a light was being turned on! " came to my mind. I frantically started writing the words and chords that eventually would become the song "You turned on the light." When I played this song in church - people were encouraged. When I played this song for the program staff, they insisted that I record it so that we could give it to each child in the program at the end of the year. As it turned out, we had a wonderful party, made a movie of the activities we had worked on all year and the director placed my song as the soundtrack for the short movie. As hoped, each child did receive a copy of the song on CD as a way to encourage them in between group meetings.

In the years since then, there have been many more songs written; but this song will always be special to me because it is a great reminder of how God can take what we think are small things and make something wonderful out of them.

Matthew 5:14-16 is a great reminder for us to take our gifts, no matter how small they may seem, and allow God to work in them to bless others and lead people to the creator of all gifts...
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

You all have gifts that God can work and move in and through. You may have the voice of an angel, the mind of healing that can help to restore people to heath, the heart to love others - even the most difficult to love, the strength to encourage those weighed down by dispair, or the hands to create a shelter for someone in need of a home. Everyone has a gift that can give and keep on giving with God's help and direction.

This week at youth group, we visited a retirement home take some time to play board games with the residents. I had brought my guitar in case we needed it for closing worship, but I was not really prepared to play many songs as I'd accidentally left my song book at the church. We played some games for a little while, but I could not stop thinking about how I'd love to sing some songs for the people. I pulled out an old song sheet - that did not have the guitar chords printed on it, and asked some of my teens if they'd be willing to give singing a try.

I was nervous that I'd make too many mistakes without the chord sheet, but something pressed me on to keep trying one song, then another, and after 30 minutes or so, I played my song "You turned on the light", completely from memory. I was amazed that some of the youth knew the words to the song and the audience seemed as if each note filled them with joy. For those few sacred minutes, it was as if a brighter light had been turned on in all of us! We closed our time of singing with the song - "This little light of mine." The elderly folks sang along, the teens sang loud and proud and we were united in the grace and love of God in this tender moment.

The journey of receiving, identifying and sharing of the gifts God gives us is one that lasts out entire lives. I pray you will be brave and willing to step out in faith with the gifts God reveals to you over time. Don't hesitate to ask God to show you the gifts he desires you to develop and use. I believe that even seemingly small gifts can make a difference in the lives of others - with the grace and help of God.

Embrace your God-given gifts, grow in how you use them, and give them to others so that God's great gift of love can keep on giving!

Matthew 7:9-11 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dear God letter...

Read the following scripture:

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us."
(Romans 12:4-6a)

What word or phrase stands out to you in the verse above? Why do you think this is?

Think about the different gifts in the Scripture references listed below:
(Romans 12): exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, (Corinthians 12) administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healing, helps, knowledge, miracles, (Ephesians 4) evangelism and pastor.

Is there a gift that stands out to you or that you have interest in? Circle the ones you might like to learn more about.

Think about the responses on your affirmation cards (Ie. See group activity on earlier blog post): How might those affirmations be clues to some of your God given gifts?

Take some time to write a letter to God concerning who you are, what your gifts are and how you might be able to use them in the world, home, school, work and your church. (You don't have to answer all these questions, but allow yourself some time to really think and listen for God's still small voice as you write about the gifts you have and how you can use them.)

Image from Rich Kirkpatrick's Blog.

Who are you and what did you bring?

Image from

"There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord." (1 Cor. 12:4-5)

Imagine for a moment that you are going to a party at a friends house. You're group of friends have all decided to meet at a friend's home on a certain day, at a certain time and bring some food for everyone to share.

As you walk up to the house and ring the bell, you'd probably think of all the good food you were about to eat and all the laughter and fun that you would take part in all evening. Your friend opens the door and says, "Who are you and what did you bring?"

The expectant smile on your face has turned to a confused expression. You try to think of something to say, but you stammer responding to the odd question, "I brought cookies?" The friend you thought knew you, says "Oh, ok.", snatches the plate from your hands and slams the door.

You are shocked and stunned. How could your friend not know who you are? Why would they take what you brought to share and leave you outside on your own. This evening of spending time with people who know you and enjoying the gifts of food and friendship has turned out upside down. Instead of being with friends where you are known and welcomed; you are in a place of disillusionment and questions.

There are two big questions that people spend a great deal of time trying to answer throughout their lives: 'Who am I?' and 'What is my purpose?'.

There are many places and people who like to tell us who we are and what gifts we bring to the world, but how do we know who to listen to? In seeking advice about our gifts and purpose, it's very important to ask people who have our best interest in mind and can be trusted. Some people take personality quizzes online, ask friends opinions, or seek out advice from family members. While trusted friends, mentors and family can be some help in answering these questions, it's important to allow time and space for soul searching, prayer and careful observation to find the individual answer to the questions, "Who am I" and "What gifts do I bring to the world?". It's important that we don't overlook seeking God's direction and guidance when considering who you are and how your skills can be used for his purpose. Too often the voices that speak the loudest are the ones that we listen to. But the voice of God is one that is still and quiet: "...but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." 1 Kings 19:12b

It's also very important to remember the vast creativity of God and how that effects the limitless gifts and abilities that are given to us.

In scripture, many gifts are listed: (Romans 12): exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, (Corinthians 12) administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healing, helps, knowledge, miracles, (Ephesians 4)evangelism and pastor. The gifts God gives are not limited to the ones on this list, but if you are looking for a place to start they are helpful.

As you consider the questions of: "who you are" and "what your gifts are"; allow your heart and mind to be open to allow God's still, small voice to speak to you.Thankfully, finding the answers to these questions is not like interacting with a would-be-friend who only invites you to the party because they want cookies. There is time to think, ponder and re-think these big questions, "Who am I?" and What gifts do I bring to the world?".

By the way, God's door is open - even if you don't think you have any cookies to share.
(Group activity: Place a paper on the back of each person. Challenge the group to write something positive about each person in the group on the paper. Make sure each person participates and emphasize that the comments must be encouraging and positive. Don't allow the participants to read the papers right away, but read the following scriptures and discuss the questions below. At the end of that discussion time, allow the group to read their papers. Then ask them how might their affirmations be put to work as gifts from God. Ie.(Romans 12): exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, (Corinthians 12) administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healing, helps, knowledge, miracles, (Ephesians 4)evangelism and pastor.)

Scriptures to unpack the questions:
Who am I? What gifts do I bring to the world?

(Romans 12:4-6a)Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

"1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him." 1 John 3:1

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

"11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

Other questions to consider:
What is something you love to do? Is there a way that God could use that as a gift? What are life-giving activities for you? (Things that make you feel good, alive, and energized.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gifts: Receiving three gifts

Image from Homemaking blog.

There are three different Christmas gifts I'd like to tell you about today. One was a mystery, another was unexpectedly good, and the third was good - but spoiled by my sneaking to see it too soon.

If you could have one amazing thing for Christmas this year. what would you ask for?

I suppose if I could ask for something besides something ideal like world peace - that was purely for the fun of it I'd ask for a full supply of paints, canvas and new paint brushes as well as the time I'd like to spend working on various art projects.

Question to ponder:

What did you say you'd like to have and why? What about this thing makes it so desirable to have?
Mystery Gift:

One Christmas morning, a long time ago in a land not so far away, I walked down to the living room to find a large shiny box under the twinkling tree that had my name on it. The gift wasn't from my parents or grandparents or a close friend - the gift was from my big brother! Now my brother is seven years older than me, and you might have said that sometimes we didn't really see eye to eye. He was home from college and working in a factory job, and I was a sometimes giddy middle school girl.Since he's come home from school, my brother was about the business of living out a grown-up life and some days I'd remember thinking he had gotten kind of serious and old a little too fast for my liking. Not that long before, he was a prankster who loved practical jokes and fun. He tended to be tricky in his gift giving and disguise his real gift by adding several layers of wrapping, boxes, marbles, and coins. He loved to see a person try to guess what he'd given them. Usually, the gift was small - like a pair of winter gloves, earrings or a paperback book I'd been wanting to read. The gift he usually gave would take second place to the prank-like way he'd present it. But considering his recent seriousness, he was really difficult to read this year.

I rattled and shook the box trying to decipher the real item inside. This time I did not hear any odd rattles or rolling marbles. Could it be that my brother had FINALLY given me a really good gift?
Question to ponder:

Can you remember a REALLY good gift that you have received? (Take a minute to think about what made it so good - what did you love about it? Why would you say this was a good gift and another would not be?)
After all the time I'd wondered about the gift my brother had given to me, the moment of truth arrived. It was time to open the box.

I pulled at the shiny foil paper to find another layer of wrapping paper directly underneath. Was it possible that my brother had pulled yet another prank on me this Christmas?

Question to ponder:

What is a gift that you thought you were going to get, but when you opened it - it turned out to be something entirely different? How did it feel to have things turn out differently than you expected?
Unexpected good:

A Christmas or so before this one with the mystery gift from my brother, my Grandmother had sent me a present for a birthday. I ripped open the package to find a colorful children's book of rhymes and poems. I don't remember what I'd expected to get, but I remember wondering why my Grandmother had given me something that most definitely was for a child - and not of course for someone as mature as me at the ripe old age of eleven.

While I tried to hide my disappointment with the gift, it was obvious that I was not impressed by reaching for the next gift as if to say, "Oh that a silly gift - I'm moving on to something bigger and better - NEXT!"

The thing I find interesting to this day, is that the only gift I remember from that birthday is the one that I thought was beneath me. Over time, the toys and game I received broke or I got bored with - and somehow the colorful pages of that poetry book kept drawing my attention and interest. Isn't it funny that this gift I thought was silly and childish, turned out to be one of my favorite things from my youth?
Question to ponder:

Some gifts are surprising for what they are or when they are given. Do you prefer getting a gift when you expect it or being surprised?
Spoiled good:

One other holiday season, I was really impatient for Christmas to arrive. No matter how I tried, I could not stand the thought of waiting for Christmas morning for the presents from my parents. As they would shop, I'd take note of the fact and when they were busy, I'd quietly sneak into my Mom's room and open the closet to take a peek at what was being stored inside.

While at first it was thrilling to seek and find what gifts were waiting for me inside that closet, I had no idea how I was draining the excitement out of the good gifts reserved for me on Christmas morning. The things I found in the closet were good gifts, but because I was in a big rush to have them the joy in receiving them was gone when I opened them on Christmas morning.

There are three gifts from my youth that I've told about so far: the mystery gift from my big brother, the children's poetry book from my Grandmother and the many good gifts the Christmas I peeked ahead of time - only to spoil the excitement of Christmas morning.

All of these gifts are ones I'd now say were good and each one has a special place in my memory. One of the reasons they are remembered is that they remind me of the people that gave them and how we are connected.

In this series on gifts, I'd like to think and unpack the kinds of gifts from God gives. God also has a way of giving mystery, unexpected good, and spoiled if we open too soon gifts.

It is important to remember the God given gifts we have received, identifying the gifts God has given and seeking and finding ways (without spoiling them) to use the gifts God has given to us. Just like the physical Christmas gifts I've told you about connected me to the givers; the gifts God gives help me feel closer and more connected to God.

The mystery gift from my brother was one that held great meaning to me, once the time had come to receive it. The book from my Grandmother gain in value over time when I let go of the misplaced expectations I was holding on to, the previewed Christmas gifts became a reminder of the need to honor the giver over the gifts they offer.

God gives good gifts, but are we in a place where we can receive them? In order to receive something, our hands and hearts need to be open. When we allow that space God is faithful to to greater gifts than we can imagine.

PS. The gift my brother gave me that Christmas did turn out to be something good. He had worked very hard in that factory and saved enough money to buy me a stereo and the album by the Police called "Synchronicity", that was very popular at the time. To this day, I still remember the joy and excitement of opening and find a good gift where I expected to find a prank. If big brothers can give good gifts - how much greater gifts can God give to all his children?

Scriptures to help unwrap the questions:

Matthew 7:9-11 - “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!"

James 1:17 NIV
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

"What kind of good gifts does God give?"
What is the best gift you've ever been given?
Can you describe a heavenly gift (gift from God)?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Peregrinatio pro amore Dei

Peregrinatio pro amore Dei is Latin for the phrase - "Pilgrimage for the love of God". I was recently introduced to this phrase in the paper pilgrimage of Unnoticed neighbors by Erina K. Ludwig.

Unnoticed Neighbors Trailer from The House Studio on Vimeo.

The love of God is something grander that I can ever comprehend; yet I feel the call to share it in more and more practical ways. As followers of Jesus we are at times called to speak God's love to others, but it's imperative to never forget the quieter call to be the hands and feet of grace in the slice of world we happen to live. This life of grace can involve our voices and ears, but it's purpose is not for ourselves - its for the benefit of others. It's not just speaking, listening, doing or being quietly present - but a combination of all of these means structured in the grace of God that we are called to as Jesus-followers.

The pilgrimage may or may not take us to far away lands - but the call to love the land and people that live where we stand in this global community is deep and greatly needed.

It's not easy to see the final destination of our pilgrimage of faith, but the people along the path are standing right in front of us - if only we have the eyes to see those we've been leaving in the unseen lot next door.

May my whole self be on a pilgrimage for the love of God - wherever the path leads.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gifts: received, identified and given

This coming weekend I'll be giving some talks with a group of middle schoolers surrounding the topic of gifts. I've begun some pondering and broken down the segments into three categories: gifts received, gifts identified and gifts given.

Below are some amazing quotes on gifts to help get the juices going....

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give. ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

What is bought is cheaper than a gift. ~Portuguese Proverb

A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover as the love of the giver. ~Thomas รก Kempis

The only gift is a portion of thyself. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers. ~Seneca

We do not quite forgive a giver. The hand that feeds us is in some danger of being bitten. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays

But it is a cold, lifeless business when you go to the shops to buy something, which does not represent your life and talent, but a goldsmith's. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Gifts," Essays, Second Series, 1844

If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give. ~George MacDonald

The manner of giving is worth more than the gift. ~Pierre Corneille, Le Menteur

Tell me about your gifts or the ones you've received. What is the greatest gift you ever received and why? What did this gift allow you to do, be, or have?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section and thanks for helping me to prepare for these upcoming discussions.

Short/straight or longer/curly?

I had a moment in this unexpectedly warm weekend of fall where I thought, "After all this hair growing, I think that short pixie cut I used to have was perfect."

What do you think...
Cut the locks or keep em?

Here's where I'm at...

Here's where the process just about started...

Which look do you like?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Return that ___________?

As I was sitting in a restaurant flipping through a copy of a book I'm rereading for a book group; my friend leaned over and said..."Hey, who's Suzi and why do you have her book?".

I stared at the inscription by the author for a moment, totally perplexed as to why I was hold my friend Suzi's copy of the book in my hands. Then, the AHA moment came. A year and a half ago, (yes that long), I'd picked up a copy of " A Million Miles" by Donald Miller when he was on his book tour when it stop over at my church for a book salon. Susan Issacs was also on the tour with her book, "Angry Conversations with God." Thankfully, I did not forget to forward signed copies of her book - one oversight like this is plenty!

(Donald Miller and Susan Issacs were so kind to agree to taking a photo with me after their book readings.)

One of the main ideas discussed in Don's book is working through the action and intent in how one builds their "life story". Do I choose to meander through life, do I choose to attempt to squeeze every drop of living there is to be lived, and do I consider what kind of life story God would like to see me write and most importantly - live?

First things first, I'll be mailing Suzi's copy of "A million miles" off to her on Monday...thankfully she is a forgiving person! Secondly, I'll be rereading and chatting about the book with some dear friends of mine for the next month or so - that should be a interesting story in itself. Thirdly, I've been on a ongoing journey to discern direction in my own life story for a while now and I plan to become more intentional on the "living it out" part of the path.

I will get Suzi's book to her, but most importantly - I will return page by page, letter by letter to the true self God has called me to be.

By the way, your prayers are greatly appreciated for this journey.

Much love,

Questions for your participation in this post: Is there something or somewhere you need to return to? How do you imagine getting there and what needs to change in order for this to happen?

PS> I love to read your comments and will respond to them! Thanks.