Tag Archives: Religion & Spirituality

A Special Place

IN ANY PLACE I LIVE long enough, I must find at least one nature-spot where I can retreat for prayer. It becomes my place, where I stain the earth with devastated prayers and paint the air with memories of healing.

At the house I grew up in, where my parents still live, this place is Skyline Memorial Gardens, about a fifteen-minute drive from my parents’ house. From there I can see the suburbs of the West side of Portland, and some of Beaverton and Hillsboro. As I sit on the green hill and talk to God, I look straight out and see the sky in front of me.

I go there to escape life. Sometimes it’s cabin fever, sometimes it’s relatives in town, sometimes it’s after work and I have a build-up of the brokenness of the world, which I have helplessly overheard working at Target.

Oftentimes I retreat with my Bible and prayer journal and write my thoughts to God. It is in those times that I remember how Jesus’ disciples always followed him up to the mountain where he would teach them. As I write, he teaches me about my heart, about the places where it needs breaking and healing, death, and resurrection. Sometimes I sit on the ground with my journal on a marble bench bearing the name someone who used to be alive.

SKYLINE MEMORIAL GARDENS is a cemetery. I never knew anyone who is buried there. When I explain it to people as one of my favorite peaceful places, I am hesitant to use the word cemetery for fear of sounding morbid.

In reality, Skyline is a gorgeous and uplifting place. I am not one to stalk about in grim places, but this isn’t one of them. Unlike spooky-story depictions of creepy cemeteries, Skyline does not have large headstones with heavy, archaic crosses upon them, it has small, usually metal grave markers, flush with the ground, sometimes with a little holder for fresh flowers, so that, if you were look out across one of the rolling green hills, you would think it was just like any other well-manicured field with only a few memorial vases peeking out from the trimmed blades of grass, erected in a salute to the textured sky.

One day when I escaped my life to meet the Lord on the hill, I could see the rainstorm coming from Hillsboro. I watched it approach, until the rain finally arrived; then I put down my pen and danced.

Sometimes I drive up there at night, even though the gate is closed, and I park alongside the road and walk through.  As I enter I become aware of the small house on the edge of the property where the dog barks until I am long past. I imagine a few of the possibly sinister outcomes should I encounter any shady characters, then, uttering a short prayer against the possibility, I leave those cares floating in the air behind me, to settle and sink into their graves.

Sometimes I’ll just take off, out-running my anxiety before kneeling in the grass and pressing what’s left of my worries into the ground with my forehead. Burying them, so that Christ can rise in my heart.

These are the moments when I understand why they do child’s pose in yoga; supposedly the pressure of one’s forehead against the ground has a very calming effect. I think God designed it that way, so the prostrate would have peace.

No matter what kind of environment I need, I can find it at Skyline. Some trees are gentle looking, others are wild and windblown. Sometimes I just need an open place in the grass, other times I just need to look at the various grave markers and contemplate my own mortality.

Sometimes I go around to the back where they keep the maintenance equipment. There are two sheds, a rusty trashcan, and an old, rusted pickup truck with a wooden bed. That is one of my favorite backdrops for taking pictures, which I often do there.  While I am there, I almost always head toward one of the buildings. The roof has gravel on it and the top back edge meets the ground due to the steep slope. I walk out to the edge of the roof, sometimes hanging my feet off the edge. If I don’t look down, I can completely forget about the land beneath me and imagine that this is the edge of the earth. Most often, I come to walk around and look at the statues of Jesus, representing various moments during his ministry.

I am not usually one to connect well with religious iconography, but coming up on the mountain to meet with him, the statues serve as a reminder of his human presence. One of my favorite things to do there is to go up to a given statue and read that part of the gospels. To think about it in light of the physical presence of the figure before me. Since my favorite part used to be Jesus’ time with the Samaritan woman at the well, I would go there often to read and work on memorizing that story. While I could paraphrase it pretty well, I definitely don’t have it memorized anymore.

I FIRST DISCOVERED Skyline with my best friends one night when I was in High School. We had just finished with some adventure or another—maybe it was the day that Becca and I went hiking instead of to the prom and then to Rimsky’s for dessert. But I know I went there before that. Okay, so I don’t know when I discovered it: sometime in high school—probably junior year. It’s been a short relationship, but it has shaped my life in more ways than I can count, because each time I return is a time in which my soul is emptied out, all of it buried, dead, like those whose names surface to make their mark on the meadow.

Although it is a spot for spiritual rest and renewal, it is also the first place I think of when I am in need for a good backdrop for a portrait. Like I mentioned before, there is the rustic maintenance and storage area, and there is the huge green hill. First Becca took her own senior pictures there, letting me into a few frames, then I followed suit a couple years later, photographing my sister for her senior photos in the same spot.

I remember one frame in particular with Becca: we had set up the camera down the hill and hit the self-timer button. We didn’t walk fast enough to sit down on the grass. It clicked right as we sat down. The frame captured showed us looking at each other, hair still falling back from our abrupt movement, and I am looking and smiling right at her. “You look like you’re in love with me!” she says playfully. It’s still my favorite picture of the two of us.

ONE SUMMER I BROUGHT my boyfriend there with me. We ran down the steep grassy hill to sit at the feet of Jesus as he preached the gospel to the Samaritan woman. For a long time we stared off in every direction, him thinking, I think, and me thinking about what he must be thinking about, looking for a long time at a given tree where a goofy and repetitive birdsong stood in stark contrast to our contemplative silence. After a long time I asked what he was thinking. He said he was thinking about his confused theology. I don’t remember how he explained it, but this time he didn’t go into much detail. He was questioning a lot. “Where in the Bible does it say God is good?”  Scott Starbuck had asked in Old Testament Prophets that past semester. Freshman year at Whitworth had taken its toll on his worldview.

For many people, I imagine, Skyline is a place to bring flowers and remember people that were special to them. I define the space as a place to remember and discover what it is to be human and to ask questions like: Who is God? How can we ask anything of him? He has a will of his own, which I can do nothing to manipulate. He will ruthlessly do whatever it is he does for whatever reason it is that he does it, so what can I do? Where in the Bible does it even say God is good? And it is here that he answers the faithful.

I like to imagine that each grave marker represents one more face that will open wide its mouth to declare at the time of resurrection with that glorious sound of a great multitude, like peals of thunder and the roar of many waters.

I HOPE THAT PEOPLE I never knew meet with Jesus over my grave. Maybe my children will bury me there. And I hope that when I am buried there I have left behind an earth littered with marks of divine encounter. I hope I will have readied spaces for the prayer warriors of tomorrow.

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Getting to Know the Spirit

I am learning about the Holy Spirit. Recently, I posted about my friend who I felt was just using me. The thing is, I realized that me helping her was also me using her. I certainly had moments in which God infected my heart with his love for her, but the reality is, it is hard for me to see her as a person that I want to know outside of the fact that she wants me to help her.

I think I started to give up. I wanted to know all about her, to really know what would give her hope in life, to listen. The thing is, some people are pretty closed off. She would talk about guys or dumb girls, but not really about her heart. But there are a lot of people who don’t really let new people in deeply. How do I love someone who I don’t really even know?

The answer is the Holy Spirit! How did I not think of that? I’ve been so busy trying to figure out how to act in a way that both cares for her and pushes her to make the most of life that I’ve sort of forgotten about the heart behind it.

I learned that I don’t have to figure out how to treat her; I am connected to the one who knows precisely. I have access to that knowledge. God wants me to know how to reach out to the ones he’s pursuing. He told me to stop thinking and start listening.

I also learned that to love someone you have to know him or her deeply, otherwise you’ll never know what they need. So how can I cultivate a heart of love toward someone whom I have trouble getting to know? Here it is: I have within me the Spirit of the one who knows her, and loves her, more deeply than anyone else ever could. I have within me the Spirit of the one who created her (and everyone else I struggle to love but end up using instead).

This struggle (and many others that the Lord has brought to my attention and convicted me of this weekend) is pointing me back toward the instruction and life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. My focus for this next stage of life will be reconnecting with this part of God: his real power, knowledge, and intimate presence in me.


Mornings Are Awesome Because

I feel like a pop star. Mostly because I am not yet wearing enough clothing (like Lady Gaga on stage or in a video). But also because my short hair sticks up like La Roux (especially if it was wet when I went to bed). Then I commence skipping about my house, making coffee, burning toast, and pausing to read for a few minutes at a time in various locations about the house.

That’s why I am a morning person!

 

Actually the real reason that I became a morning person was because of discipleship. And yes, I did become a morning person. I have as much trouble getting out of bed as the next person, but it’s a habit that I chose to develop by shoving my butt the hell out of bed every morning until it started to happen in its own. I highly recommend it. Start going to discipleship at 6 a.m., and workout classes at 5:30 on the days you don’t have discipleship. Do it consistently for a few months, and you will be a morning person too. I think.

 

Jan was my discipler (if I can make that a word) that summer that I became a morning person. She insisted that when we were mothers we would have to get up before our children to make sure we were full enough of the Lord first. She also showed us many places in scripture where God spoke in the morning and people missed it because they were too lazy. As John Mark said, revivals are born after midnight. Maybe that means staying up late, but maybe we should be waking up closer to “after midnight”—even fewer people do that.

My spirit wants me up and my body wants me asleep. Aren’t we supposed to listen to our spirits and not our bodies? I will not even begin to list the verses about body and spirit. I do recommend looking them up. I was reading through them a couple of weeks ago, and I began to wonder: what is my body pulling me toward, and what does my spirit crave? Which voice is saying what? In this case I know. Spirit says “Morning! Hear the birds! Hear his voice! How rich and beautiful and alive it all is in these smaller hours!”

 

Scripture for you: (Sorry, I am going to mix translations. If you want a fun game, guess which versions I quoted from!)

“So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone” (Exodus 34:4).

“And Jehovah, the God of their fathers, sent to them by his messengers, rising up early and sending, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place” (2 Chronicles 36:15).

“And now, because ye have done all these works, saith Jehovah, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not” (Jeremiah 7:13).

“For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice” (Jeremiah 11:17).

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb” (Mark 16:2). (This is Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome. Yes, the first people to see Jesus after the resurrection saw him because they had risen early to tend to him.)

 

If you don’t fill up with light, you spend the day trying to squeeze it out of everyone else. I do. Or your computer, which is considerably less juicy for squeezing; however, you may argue that it does emit more light.


Emilie the Sage

Since I first came to know Christ, I feel that I have played the role of sage. And I’ve loved being the quiet wise one to whom everyone seems to look. But I am not always that. Sometimes someone else is that person to me. I remember having long talks about people’s lives with them, especially in high school. Then I would give them some gospel advice, and they would reach for the nearest pen and notepad to record what I’d told them, word for word. That always made me feel so important.

I realized tonight, though, that Emilie does that for me. It is nice to be free to recognize someone else doing what I have sometimes done so well and not feel like my identity is threatened. She can be that person too. I don’t have to always be the wise one to feel okay with myself. I can both bless and be blessed. There is no need to hold myself above her or anyone else.

I don’t think I’ve had that kind of freedom in the past.

The Lord always provides the wisdom I need. Sometimes through my mind, other times through someone else’s. It is a beautiful gift either way.

Today Em was sitting on the floor in front of me while I rubbed her back.

EM: Can we talk about Jesus?

ME: What about him?

EM: How he loves us.

ME: Yes … I don’t know how to start this conversation.

EM: Well I was just thinking about that line in the song “Jesus, I my cross have taken.” It goes, “All must work for good to me.”

ME: Hmm.

EM: That’s crazy. There is nothing that ever happens that isn’t a win for God. He’s just rackin’ them up. And that means everything that happens is a victory for us.

ME: Because we’re on the same team.

EM: It’s like, even when we’re scoring goals for the other side, our team is still winning by so much, we can’t be shaken.

ME: God scored all the goals to infinity about two thousand years ago and people have been scoring for the wrong team ever since.

This is such good news, guys! We’re allowed to be on the winning team. As long as we claim to be on his team… and why would we claim anything but the winning side?

EM: It must suck to be Satan. Every time you think you’ve succeeded it just becomes a bigger loss.

ME: Yeah.

Well that’s about it. I am just so glad I got to feel someone’s joy spill over me. I live  in the same room with that! So good for the soul.


Hello, world!

This is a new site for an existing blog. Please, if you like what is here, read the original Thoughts, Prayers, Praises, Inspirations.

UPDATE: In the future, I might transfer some of my favorite posts from the old site.

UPDATE: As you can probably see, I have added selected old posts to this site. With 180 past entries, moving them all will probably never happen. And I never could figure out how to move them all at once. Just one by one, manually re-entering dates and times.