Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Michelle DeRusha's Spiritual Misfit (and a giveaway!)

Michelle DeRusha opens up her book Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith with the story of the necklace she stole from a classmate in the third grade. She never wore the necklace for fear of getting caught, but how it tormented her, this sin.

"Regret rushed in almost instantly. The thrilling high of the conquest crashed into gut-wrenching fear. Aware of its weight all day in my pocket, I passed up my usual penny drops on the junglegym at recess for fear the necklace would plunk into the sand as I swung by my knees. Later I dashed to the girls' room and perched on the toilet with the gem balanced on my thigh. I thought seriously about flushing my loot but worried it would plug up the system. Plus, I realized that wouldn't solve the real problem anyway, the whole rotting-in-hell dilemma. A simple flush would not hide my sin from the all-seeing eyes of God."

This first glimpse we get of DeRusha's complicated faith journey is the kind of storytelling we are treated to in Spiritual Misfit. Raised Catholic, the author shares stories of wrestling with guilt and doubt and how this eventually opened a door to a deeper relationship with God. She writes with transparency and humor about some of the feelings we've all had when trying to live out our own faith.

Spiritual Misfit is an important book. It not only addresses the myth of the one-faith-fits-all, it helps us see how doubt and faith can coexist. We leave Michelle's story with the affirmation that God is big enough to handle our questions—even the ones that don't have a clear-cut black-and-white kind of answer.

I laughed out loud and was brought to tears at Derusha's skillful storytelling and her witty way with words. I think you will too. It's a well-crafted manuscript with a message we all need reminded of.

Spiritual Misfit releases today and I'm excited to offer one book for giveaway here! Just leave a comment by Sunday evening (that's Easter night!) for a chance to win and I'll announce the winner in Monday's Playdates with God post. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Playdates with God: Smitten

We drove over 300 miles—one way—to pick up a little three pound package that would steal our hearts.We drove until the hills flattened out, through lands of patchwork quilt-like barns, where hawks glide in circles over nubby cornfields and red-winged blackbirds gawk from atop road signs. We drove to puppy breath and plump belly and sharp little teeth that nibble ears.

And it seems crazy right now, in the midst of this busy life, to take on a living breathing responsibility; but as Jeff said, “I haven't been so excited about something for a long time.” There's never really a perfect time to fall in love, what with all the sacrifice that comes with it. But the house feels more like home again now that this little one is with us, and we smile more easily these past few days. My pockets are filled with training treats and we have stocked up on the carpet cleaner. Life will be even more complicated for a little while.

But it will be sweeter too.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us: 

The Playdates button:

Friday, April 11, 2014


The birds sing the heartiest before the sun lifts above the blue line of the horizon, right outside my bedroom window. And to awaken to birdsong is to awaken to wonder—wild, sweet notes pealing through the dark. Hope opens like a flower unfolding in the sun. Every year I forget this—how spring shifts the heart, how the stone is rolled away.

Yesterday evening I prepared my little garden for planting—tilling in a new layer of topsoil, breaking up chunks of earth with my fingers. I have broccoli and onions, some different varieties of lettuce, and kale, all ready to be covered over with a blanket of soil—put to sleep in preparation for a new awakening.

Every spring, I am the seed. It is the painful breaking open, the reaching through the dark that yields the fruit that feeds, after all. But this morning, I look out over the meadow behind our home and see how it has flowered. The seeds the birds have dropped over the years have grown into a lovely orchard of pear trees, all frocked out in lacy blossoms. I remember a time when the meadow was mostly grasses—well-kept with only a couple apple trees, three pear trees, and that prickly chestnut. Time and neglect have made her a new place, and the meadow is flushed out with brush and thistle now; hints of last year's wildflowers whispering against young saplings. The goats have made some progress around the perimeter, but her midsection is still a wild place.

This morning that wildness sings to me and I am taken by the way the pinky-white blossoms break up the twiggy undergrowth and weave beauty through the monotony.

This morning I look out over the meadow behind our home and see that this spring I am the blossom. I am this fragile, translucent beauty that takes wing with the wind—carrying the memory of the breaking open in my skin, leaving behind a sweet perfume and the promise of plump fruit.

Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.

--Julian of Norwich

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


This morning I read the story of Jairus's daughter—how Jesus restores her life—and these words take the breath right out of me:

“He took her by the hand and said, 'My child, get up!'”

He told the mourners not to fear, that she was only sleeping. When I read these words I am filled by the ways he keeps awakening my sleeping heart, opening my sightless eyes. This is more than compassion. This is resurrection. How many times has he taken me by the hand and said, “My child, get up!”?

This weekend at the Refine Retreat I told Christine, “I didn't realize how tired I was until I arrived here. And suddenly, it's like a deep breath. I can rest.”

It reminds me of something I read recently in Mark Buchanan's book The Rest of God:

“A curious thing about restoration is that it doesn't need doing. Strictly speaking, life carries on without it. Restoration is an invasion of sorts. It's fixing something that's broken, but broken so long it's almost mended. This man, this woman—they've already adapted to their misfortunes, made all the necessary adjustments. Restoration meddles with what they've learned to handle, removes what they've learned to live with, bestows what they've learned to live without ...These people are doing fine just the way they are. They've learned to live this way. They've almost accepted it. They've taught themselves tricks to bypass it, to contain it. To utilize it, even. They've built lives around not being whole …”

When I don't slow myself to rest, this is what I am doing—building my life around not being whole. I walk around, dead—surrounded by mourners, flutes playing, wailers lamenting. And it feels normal. It feels ok. How long have I carried this tired inside of me?

But Jesus touches my hand. “She is only sleeping,” he says.

“What if the real blessing when we rest is not what we receive but what we give?” Teri Lynne asked us this weekend. And it's true. I have not been able to give freely, to love with my heart wide open. Things have been too hard, I've been moving too fast for Jesus to take my hand and rouse my spirit.

Resurrection.That is what I received this weekend. When I returned to my little valley home, all the fruit trees were in full bloom. I drove through my familiar with new eyes.

Spring had come while I was sleeping. And waking up had never been so sweet.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Playdates with God: Art that Breathes

We made art.

But mostly we celebrated the art that God made when He created each one of us.

At the beginning of the retreat, Kris prayed for God to, “...break us where we need to be broken, heal us where we need to be healed, open our hands and walk us into your storehouses.” And Annie told us about the ancient Japanese art of Kintsugi—a way of repairing something broken. The Japanese artisan would mend the cracks of the object with fine gold.

“You wouldn't repair something unless it was very valuable,” Annie said. “And the object increased in value because of the repair. Because it was broken.”

This image quickly became ours. Because, as Christine said, “The gift of creative language and metaphor may just very well be God's love language.”

I arrived dry and brittle but returned home overflowing. I'm still sitting with the wonder of it all. The words are still churning, so I'll share a few images. My heart is filled with gratitude for the storehouses of God.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Little Things

Lately it's the little things. Like the way the moon smiled down on us last night as we stood in the parking lot to say goodbye. And the way the Maple tree is beginning to bud, red leaflets unfurling; it's the way my hand fits in his—how that can feel new after all these years.

It's sweet-smelling nightskin and the way an earlobe curves just so; the way the perfect word drips off the tongue like rain—this, my seduction.

The earth rarely moves but there is something stirring inside of me—something groaning awake. Is it spring? Resurrection? We have had some dark months and last night as we walked under the stars I told Jeffrey that it is what we let these difficult times make of us that matters. He didn't like that but he walked a little taller after the saying of it.

And later, after we stay up until midnight pouring our hearts into the open hands of the other—it all seems like empty words; dead things, long-expired. I tell him it feels like I'm standing alone in this hope and he won't look me in the face.

And so I read about Jesus saying that it makes no sense to fast when the bridegroom is among the children of the bedchamber. Barclay says that, “Those who walks with Christ walk in radiance and joy.”

Then why am I starving to death?

So I do my best to align my heart, align my steps, walk in time. Joy has made herself scarce these days. And I wonder if walking with Christ could be as simple as walking with my son under the night sky—could I … just? I let all that trying go, let loose of all that I know.

And I part the curtains just in time to see. A single light, shooting across the sky.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Playdates with God: The Bravery of Poetry

I keep putting the honey in my oatmeal each morning, waiting for that sweet amber to drip into all the empty places, soften all that is brittle and dry. And I remember what the beekeeper told me when I visited his apiary—how he eats a spoonful of honey every morning and it has helped him be rid of the seasonal allergies he used to have. I'm still sniffing the remnants of a cold from last week and I think about how this viscous syrup is made from riches gathered, purified in the abdomen of the bees. I have nature's gold coursing through my body and I close my eyes as I spoon it into my mouth, imagine a field of thousands of wildflowers inside of me.

My playdates have been small lately. I've been tethered to home by a leash made of worry. Yesterday, I preached at a church I'd never been to before and I almost left out the children's sermon. But when it came to me in tiny upturned faces sitting on the front pew, I was glad. Because we talked about the birds and the things we can learn from them and it was a lesson I need to hear over and over: how Jesus said that God cares for the birds so why wouldn't he take care of us? As I shared those words with the children, I believed them, yet here I am again awakening at four o'clock in the morning with thoughts spinning like planets through my head. I can create entire worlds out of worry in the wee hours of the morning.

I am pale and wan before the morning fully settles into the horizon. I press my forehead to the window and watch the sun announce her arrival with glisten over the diamond-studded grasses in the meadow behind our house. I'm still reading Matthew in the morning and today Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners again. It is the sick who need a doctor, he tells the Pharisees, and I keep reading, looking for the cure.

This morning my flagging spirits are set sail by another book, one I've been pairing with my morning Bible readings: Love, Etc.: Poems of Love, Laughter, Longing & Loss. It's my friend Laura Barkat's new book of poetry and it seems a good companion to the holy. Though she told me when we were talking about it, It's not for everyone. It does have some bold stuff in it, you know. Which, of course, made me want to read it all the more.

So I finished up the book while the robins sang to each other outside my window and the sun melted the icy crust of morning. And I can't help agreeing with Glynn Young when he says, "...I’m struck with how closely connected love, laughter, longing and loss truly are." It does—have some bold stuff, you know. But I felt God in it, because I believe he's in all good art. I think about how bold Jesus was, how he broke with all convention and spoke truth in ways never heard before. Poetry does that too. And I marvel at how all these worries I've been having can make me want to flee my life but a small book of poetry can give me courage to stay in it, to face it with love and desire and a fast-beating heart.

I'll leave you with one of Laura's poems from Love, Etc.:


We call them to the world
before we even know their names,
before we understand
what it will mean
to lean beside their beds
on breath-thin nights.

They teach us
how to hold their hands,
shut the lights,
pray for dawn.

The winner of Jennifer Lee's book Love Idol is ... Peggy! Peggy, I'll try to track you down but if you read this first, send me a message so I can mail the book out to you ASAP. Congratulations!

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

The Playdates button: