A Tender Birthday Message for my Father, a Story, and a Lectio Divina

Here, dear friends is a lectio divina based on the verses of Matthew 25:34-40 in honor of my father who has lived his life fueled by them.

Happiest of birthdays Dad!

 

Last year you rented an apartment in Sori, Italy, for you and mom and my family of five. We ate every night on a balcony four floors above the Mediterranean Sea, round umbrellas covering the sand in a grid in front of us. We could hear the waves as we went to sleep and the sounds of Sori awakening each morning. The bells in the church were just across the square at eye-level. We were just a five minute drive up the Ligurian coast from where I was born.

 

 

On a Tuesday morning the three of us, you, me, and mom, put on walking shoes and hiked the road to Pieve Ligure. You pointed out your bank, your favorite coffee shop where you learned to drink espresso, and the market on the corner of your street that had been turned into a bar. We passed the train station where you had stood on the platform, an American going to medical school in Genoa. I could envision you with your red beard, bellbottoms, and an open anatomy book, glancing up for the train occasionally. You were only twenty-two but determined. Your clarity on your desire to become a doctor and determination to do the work has given me the courage to take great risks for the visions God has placed in my heart. When I was sixteen and spending an hour and a half in the living room nightly at the black veneer piano, you leaned over and said these words, “You are sixteen and you can do anything you set your mind to if you start right now.” You believed in me before I even knew how.

 

 

We chatted as we walked along lanes covered with bougainvillea about how mom had made the hard decision to leave the baby with you and teach at an International school nearby. You studied your medical books during the day, learning Italian by painstakingly translating one paragraph a day and then two and then whole pages. Your stalwart perseverance still stuns me. You’d care for me for a few hours, give me a mid-morning bottle, and slip me into the pocket of the blue backpack, walking the passagiata from our four story apartment in Pieve Ligure down to the fishing village of Bogliasco. I would fall asleep to the rhythm of the waves crashing on the rocks of the riviera and you would study during naps. Last July as we trekked that same passagiata something about the waves combing over and pulling back thousands of pebbles sounded like home.

 

We talked about how our living overseas had changed the direction of our family, how hospitality to strangers had been woven into the warp and woof of our days. We talked about how the long Italian meals, spending hours at the table and lingering into the evening with half empty glasses of wine had become our family’s favorite way to share life. Most importantly, the needs of the world had come close. Like Albert Schweitzer, you invested much of your life helping meet the most pressing medical needs of Africa.

 

 

The three of us sat down at a restaurant overlooking the sea at a table set with orange glasses and grey fabric napkins, sipped cool white wine pressed from grapes grown on the terraces up the mountains behind us. We ate piles of succa della noce, a wide pasta with a creamy walnut sauce made only in that area. Forty years before you had watched our neighbor Mamonna on the apartment balcony painstakingly rub the paper thin exterior of the walnuts between her thumb and forefinger, to assure the sauce was never bitter. We sat during dinner and watched lovers dive off of rocks into the azure water below. They would pull themselves up and sunbathe on towels covering the rocks. I could imagine you and mom laying there, just 18 months after you were married, both of you brand new to adulthood. Decades later I watch you together, your small daily kindnesses of washing the dishes after a long day in the operating room, the way you talk about your loneliness when she’s traveling as if the music has gone out of the house. You have had plenty of accomplishments but your beautiful and hard-won marriage may be your greatest. You teach us to pull in close, to do the work, to love through dark days, and then abundantly celebrate coming out the other end.

 

I’ve learned much from you Dad:

 

how to curate opportunities for my children, choosing a common interest and investing time. I was seventeen when you sat with me and scratched a translation in Italian of “O Mio Babbino Caro” on my sheet music at the piano.  

 

to courageously ask questions and not to fear that they are doubt but an opportunity to deepen belief.

 

to always serve with compassion, caring for the suffering with dignity.

 

how to be a good friend. I remember you and mom flying halfway across the country to sit with a friend who was getting a bone marrow transplant.

 

to be a life-long learner. I’ll never forget how tired you were, how you would sink onto the living room couch at the end of the day wondering if you were too old to learn new technology. You were 57 and taking classes to learn how to bend the arms of a DaVinci robot with minuscule finger movements confident the tiny incisions would help your patients heal faster.

 

to always care for the weak among us. When your precious mother, my Nona, had alzheimer’s, you brought her home, giving her gentle baths in your large sunken tub, whispering to her quietly, and tucking her into the large bed in the guest room.

 

to dig daily into the Word. When I was ten you inked tiny brackets around passages from Mark, encouraging me to read the verses on my own, and then sitting at the wooden table in the kitchen to discuss it over cereal.

 

the value of time together. Thank you for renting a cottage each summer so we can bring spouses and grandchildren who run the long halls and wrestle like bears on the grass on the back lawn.

 

Most importantly? You taught me that the secret of fatherhood is lavish love. Whether it’s an extravagant four-course meal overlooking the Provencal mountains at Bastide de Gordes or the ring you had circled with diamonds and “vintaged” to fit my style, you pour out lavish love. And we all feel it Dad. You open your heart and it all pours out…and in that, you give us glimpses of the Father’s love.

 

Happy birthday. I love you dearly.

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Are You Addicted to Big? Matthew 13:31-33 *SLOW Word video*

Come join me in the Presence to listen to Jesus remind us that the Kingdom is made up of small.  In a world addicted to big, it’s a powerful reminder. Below is my story of big addiction. Want to receive these Lectio Divina, these invitations of Word to prayer, straight into your inbox? Subscribe on the right:

 

 

 

I knelt on the blue berber carpet at the front of the church as often as I could.

We were a Christian Missionary Alliance church and rated an “A” congregation for all the big missionaries to make their circuit through during their furlough year. An altar call was always given, “Just as I Am” was played, and I walked forward, knelt and spread my palms on the berber carpet. I smelled adventure. I wanted to do big things for God.

 

But the mustard seed kingdom life doesn’t work that way. We are not plucked out of obscurity into big. We are taught to get down on our knees with a basin and a towel and rub tiny feet, wrinkled feet, and the tired feet with cracked heels. The Spirit teaches us to plant lines of seed one at a time. We learn to love big, not work big. They are rarely ever one in the same.

 

We learn to cup our children’s faces and linger just a little bit longer than necessary. We learn that small acts of kindness watered by grace feed a marriage. We learn the particular accent of the woman next door, the village where her people are from, and her favorite type of tea. We learn to become a collector of stories, that a vulnerable heart listening well is the building block of trust.

 

We learn to sit in the dark and quiet and sow seeds of prayer which will never be counted, nor should they. They should be massed in our hands and thrown out liberally, generously.

 

We learn that who we become for God is infinitely more important than what we do for God. We learn that becoming a good news person means listening to the heartbeat of God first, leaning on His chest like John the Beloved at the table, and finding our home in that steady pattern. Sometimes we are encouraged to whisper what we hear into the next waiting ear. Sometimes we become a container for the secrets of God and hold them tenderly in our hands in order not to crush them.

 

It’s been a long ten years of unlearning the siren song of Big. I tied my worth to it. I tied God’s love to it. I made vows to it which had to be cut off. But the Kingdom is built by small offered to He who is big but was planted in a womb, a tiny seed.

 

What are your small Kingdom beginnings today, friend? Join me in the comments.

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Key to Conquering Anxiety *SLOW Word video* Lectio Divina

 

We live our lives as orphans. We live impoverished and alone.  We walk out our front door, down the sidewalk and completely forget who our Daddy is.

 

At least that’s my story.  

 

When I was ten years old we moved across the country from Maine to Ohio. New neighborhood. New church. New Christian school.

 

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I pushed through the giant metal doors of that jr. high completely intimidated by the painted concrete walls, the dozens of blue eyes staring back. I breathed shallow. I learned to live as camouflage, an iguana that changed colors according to the background. I held my arms tight to my body and wished I could blend in.

 

It was an impossible task.

 

80% of the other children were family, first and second and third and fourth cousins of Dutch farm families who had ingeniously settled that land, drained the swamp and farmed the black topsoil that remained. Their trucks crisscross the country to WalMarts and Meijer stores filling our vegetable bins. The kids in my class picked the lettuce and carrots in the summer alongside their fathers’ migrant workers. They were on their home turf and were made of sturdier stuff.

 

I was a singer, a reader who ate, drank, and breathed Lucy Mond Montgomery, and had an anxiety disorder I would only come to understand after I birthed my first baby. That was decades away.

 

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As the kids teased, I took every arrow straight to the heart. I didn’t know how to deflect the pain, the fear that they might be right. I let them write my new name, carve it across my chest. The lies wormed their way into my blood system and it took years to erase the ink scrawled out: Rejected.

 

I walked through those metal doors into my jr. high stripped of truth. I walked in as an orphan. Abandoned. Devastatingly alone.

 

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This is my story, my fight for healing, and the long hard road of transformation. This was one of the essential keys on the journey right here in Psalm 139: 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?

   Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

   If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

If I take the wings of the morning

   and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

   and your right hand shall hold me tight.

 

This is not just theory, all these lovely words. It’s David’s story, a shepherd boy, struggling with fear on the side of the mountain listening to a lion’s hunting growls. He must have wondered if he had wandered outside of the circle of His Presence. And it’s my story.

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Years later this matchstick girl has learned to cling tight. His Presence is no longer ethereal ideology, or some mystic’s fanaticism. Practicing the Presence of God is my life-line, especially during times of transition when my world has been emptied, tipped upside down like a bucket, my comfortable life tumbling out. I’ve learned to open up my awareness to His constant Presence and the Light of the World chases away anxiety’s clinging fog. I no longer walk into rooms alone, sit at tables alone, walk the edge of the water’s surf alone. The perfect love of God is always near, a banner over me. His love, no wait…His present love defines me. I AM adopted. The papers have been signed in blood. I walk with Jesus. It’s the with-God life, and my dears, it’s good.

 

After years of pressing close, years of this renewing of the mind, (Oh the tales of redemption that I could tell!) I no longer function as a practical orphan. I know who I am.

 

I’m His.

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On the Journey toward Self-Acceptance + *SLOW Word video*

 

My holidays were straight up gluttonous.  Baked brie oozing out of its pastry crust.  Chilled mimosas for breakfast with crepes carefully folded over nutella and strawberries. Then later, Balsamic Roasted Beef, smashed potatoes, and peas and pancetta for Christmas dinner. With wine. Always with wine.

And that was just the first 24 hours. My people take feasting seriously.

Then gluttony took on a deeper level. I. DID. NOT. WANT. TO. STOP. for sleep, for exercise, for bathing (it’s getting real people!), for breathing. I wanted to bathe in joy, to seize it and ride it home. I sat Indian style with little ones on the floor, eating imaginary eggs from tiny hands and rolled onto my back to surge a curly headed nephew up into an airplane ride with my feet. I went on every excursion. I watched movies on the couch late into the night my brother reciting the lines of Chariots of Fire before they occurred. Then I stayed up later to journal. Each morning there was more coffee and less of me. Repeat for three more days.

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I tried to remember to stop and inhabit the present moment, to listen, to drink deep.

 

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Two days in, I slid into cruise control and held my breath.

Here’s the problem. I’m an introvert and a four on the enneagram. I only have so much energy, lots to process, and then I crash and push through until I hit a wall. Every year it happens. Every year I forget. In the past, I’ve shamed myself. Why don’t I have more to give? Why can’t I just be like_______ and dance my way through? Shame and I are close acquaintances.

But, it’s time to grow up, to slide into the wider spaces of self-acceptance.

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This quote by Parker Palmer curated by Leanna Tankersley on her Instagram whispered a kind of quiet truth that made me come back…and back to listen again:

“They decide to live “Divided No More.” They decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truth about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside.”

Palmer’s words echo this quote by Fr. Romano Guardini which I’ve come to circle so often these last few years.

“The act of self-acceptance is the root of all things. I must agree to be the person who I am. Agree to the qualifications which I have. Agree to live within my limits…The clarity and the courageousness of this acceptance is the foundation of all existence,” Fr. Romano Guardini.

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If Guardini’s words feel like an invitation to self-acceptance, my one-word for 2014, Parker Palmer’s words feel like a line in the sand. It whispers with a deep magic to this recovering people-pleaser.

Self-acceptance is a choice to be whole, not frayed. And no one else can make that choice for me. I’ve decided it’s time for me to grow up. It’s time to be “divided no more.”

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(Christmas morning selfie by my daughter. Love her.)

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Praying for Healing with Scripture and SLOW Word

Remember, everyday Monday and Thursday is a SLOW Word right here. It’s such a privilege to pray the Word together! Subscribe on the right for gentle reminders straight to your inbox. And, if you know of anyone who would benefit, share this SLOW Word by Facebook or email and set the table for someone else. Love you all!

 

On this SLOW Word/Lectio Divina I share a piece of my story, the crippling fear of rejection and the scriptures I prayed.  Again, I’d love to pray for you by name if you need healing. Put your name in the comment section and a bit about your desire. If you are interested in more about my story or how you can receive more healing from the fear of rejection find them here:

 

Where My Story is Challenged by Truth

Serious Approval Addiction Excavation

The Gift of Vulnerability – The leper and my story entertwine

 

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