The Fragrant Offering

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

img_0897

Over the years, church has been a place where I have been loved on and prayed for—and a place where I have been wronged and offended.

It’s a place where I have encouraged and served people dear to me—and a place where I have hurt those very same people.

It’s a place where I have been embraced with unconditional love—and a place where I have been pierced by harsh, judgmental attitudes.

It’s a place where I have received forgiveness—and a place where I have been called to forgive.

Heeding this call to love and forgiveness is integral to my participation in the mystical body of Christ because—need I say it?—not one of us is perfect. We’re all human. We fail, we sin. But in Christ we have a deeper call—that of living out what Paul tells us in Ephesians, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Just as the sacrifice of Jesus draws me to new life in Him, the way of love lived out by my brothers and sisters in Christ is a fragrant offering calling me to continued communion and community with people dear to my soul. Theirs, too, is a sacrifice that has spoken volumes to this heart of mine–

through the forgiveness freely given by women I’ve wronged by speaking thoughtless words or repeating idle gossip.

through the prayers of those who have helped me fight temptation and persevere through dark nights of the soul.

through the laughter and tears shared with dear friends as we have rejoiced over and lamented the things life has thrown our way, learning to believe that God’s got a purpose in all this, that He’s not abandoning us.

through the faithfulness of my pastors, who practice what they preach, consistently modeling how to love God and love people, who listen to the deep yearnings of my heart, who see patterns and offer suggestions on how I can open up my soul to the life-giving grace of Jesus.

through the hospital visits made by brothers and sisters in the Lord throughout my daughter’s illness and eventual death.

through the ministry of presence, through gifts of time, food and even money shared with my family when life was at its hardest.

For me, these examples of love in action are what God talks about in the book of Hosea. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” These cords are strong. They tie me to God and to my brothers and sisters. For when I see this kind of sacrificial kindness, I’m seeing God, I’m seeing Christ. I’m receiving His love while learning from the examples of those around me. And I, too, am giving, serving, forgiving, loving.

May the aroma created by such kindness, compassion, and forgiveness play at least a small part in drawing people in all corners, in all communities, into God’s fold.

 

Whatever is true…

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

When I think of all that is true, one thing that comes to mind is the loyalty of canine friends. In fact, my brother–who’s occasionally known for waxing philosophical–is always reminding us of the unconditional love of pets. And so in honor of our Aussie, Logan, here are a few images that remind us of the true nature of his friendship over the years.

Whatever is pure…

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

image

There are few things so pure and joyful as a mother’s love for her babe–unless it’s this same love in triplicate!

Jen and Mavria, Emily and Teddy, Shara and Dignan–all were spreading delight at church today, bringing smiles to our faces and bursts of joy to our hearts.

 

 

 

 

Whatever is noble–take 2

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

The news is full of stories headlining tragic examples of humankind’s depravity and the devastation that lies in its wake.

Yet always, in response to that devastation, brave and noble souls can be found reaching out to those caught in the crossfires of greed and corruption.

One such person is Kelly Connolly, the daughter of a college friend. Her compassion for people who’ve been marginalized and victimized as well as her passion for demonstrating the tender love of Jesus have struck a chord deep in my soul. Her writing conveys a sensitivity and wisdom beyond her years. I’m fortunate to have come across an interview done with Kelly while she was ministering to refugee families on the Greek island of Lesvos. Take a look–you’ll be amazed and grateful that God is raising up such humble, prayerful, action-oriented servants as this young woman of faith.

It’s been an absolute honor watching the Body of Christ come together to actively engage the crisis by joyfully serving the refugees in Lesvos. Never have I (personally) seen an instance of the global Church operating in so much unity. Worshipping and praying alongside believers from all over the world, who have pressed pause on their lives back home to come to Greece and love their neighbors has been so inspiring. It’s given me a glimpse into what heaven will look like—a beautiful, multifaceted representation of the world surrendered, submitted, and in awe of Jesus and His Kingdom.

You can find this powerful interview at:

http://www.nationsfoundation.org/blog/live-from-lesvos

A related interview with Kelly and her coworker Laura Pennington can be found at:

http://www.nationsfoundation.org/blog/engaging-the-refugee-crisis

At Kelly’s suggestion, I also looked up info on a group called i58. In Kelly’s words, “i58 is an American based group that has had a steady stream of volunteers in Lesvos since last fall — they are the most humble, honoring people I worked with. Their care, cross-cultural commitment to honoring and dignifying the people they’re serving, and love looks more like Jesus than almost anything I’ve ever seen.”

While pursuing the organization’s website, I read one of the articles posted on its blog. While I’m unsure of the writer’s name, the compassion and sincerity in this author”s voice as she expresses her heart to a young refugee leave me amazed and encouraged.

But Zaina girl, as I sat there with you and your parents, I was happy to realize that even in the middle of this overcrowded camp, you are loved. I see it in the way your parents delight in you.
They gave up all they knew to give you peace. Ran from war so that you would be safe.
I know they must struggle to know how they ended up here in an over-crowded transit camp. This place that’s so full that you could slip out of sight among the crowd and disappear in a moment…

and then…

Zaina girl, I wish that I could protect you from all the pain of this broken world. I want to shield you from realities of war and hatred attached to the headlines in the news. I want you to be able to grow up in a world of peace…But more than that, I want you to come to know the peace that passes all understanding…A peace that can live in our hearts even in the middle of war.

What more can really be said–except perhaps that thinking on noble endeavors such as these can provide an impetus for us as we seek to live out the light of the Gospel in the warmth of Christ’s love.

[i58] is a volunteer organization assisting refugee relief in Greece. Every day, we are encountering the overwhelming humanitarian crisis that is devastating Syria and surrounding parts of the world. To us, this crisis comes to us in human faces—the countless refugees we meet and serve everyday, the faces of broken families, hurting children and the vulnerable elderly. We exist to bring help and hope to each of them.

You can read more about i58 on their website, http://i58greece.com/

Whatever is praiseworthy…

img_0616-2 img_0935

 31 Days of Philippians 4:8

Although this jumble of teacups could definitely be more artfully arranged, the fragile beauty of each unique vessel evokes memories of my mom, a woman beautiful in character and in compassion, faithful and tenderhearted toward those hurt by the world. She was my first example of kindness in action, and I’ll forever aspire to be as thoughtful and considerate as she. Oh, to be able to sit and share a cup of tea with her today!

 

Celebrating a quiet, beautiful, admirable life

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

verla

Verla Hanson  will forever live in my memory as the embodiment of faithfulness, kindness, and goodness. Her patience and gentleness in caring for the little ones of our church (like Melissa Moore, above) endeared her to parents and children alike, while the twinkle in her eye hinted at a deep sense of joy bubbling beneath her quiet, calm exterior. In her later years she continued to faithfully drive to the city to congregate with our little body of believers, inspiring us with her example of perseverance and hope. Verla is now home with her Savior. Service details will be shared as they become available.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

 

If Anything is Excellent…

Okay, let’s be real. I’m not actually going to meditate on my excellent smoothie and it’s healthful ingredients.

13147432_549721105189283_6519340511624154200_o

photo by Wendell Benedetti

But I am going to give kudos to an excellent local hangout, With Live Market & Cafe, and the delicious smoothies created there. My favorite is the Mint 2 Be, a concoction featuring kale, pineapple, apple, mint, and lemon. I’ve made my own variation, but it in no way diminishes the delight I take in their refreshing version, which I can enjoy while relaxing in their loft and working on projects or conversing with friends.

Plus, a visit to the cafe affords me the opportunity to chat with the owner and employees and hear about their current community programs (cooking classes for adults and kids, writing class for teens and young adults, weekly yoga, the list goes on). These guys are about so much more than making money as they seek to have a positive impact on the surrounding community.

And the fringe benefit of being “in love” with this place?  I’m now just a tad bit more mindful of maintaining healthful eating habits. That’s an excellent development, to say the least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever is lovely…

Some of us have been friends for more than 30 years.

image

Through these years, we’ve walked through joy and sorrow, peace and anguish. Weddings, births, and deaths. Misunderstandings, impatience, and ugly attitudes. Fractured hearts and fractured minds, restoration and renewal.

We’ve spoken words of affirmation and acceptance, and we’ve encouraged one another to keep on keeping on, knowing that Christ will complete the good work he began in us, attempting to love one another as He loves us.

So we keep showing up, rejoicing in the gift of friendship, and like today, celebrating the birthday of a treasured friend.

img_3321

Lovely? Yes indeed!

 

31 Days of Philippians 4:8

I’ve been reflecting of late on what brings me the greatest satisfaction in life. Besides being with the people I love (interacting with them, conversing with them, going deep with them), writing is what brings me the greatest fulfillment. Sometimes ideas flow, sometimes they don’t, but when they do the joy starts deep in my inward parts and sometimes even begins bubbling over. And as many of you know, I’m really not a bubbling-over kind of person.

But because of the way writing can bring me delight, I’m tentatively taking on an online writing challenge called Write 31 Days. In this challenge (started by home blogger, Myquillyn Smith (The Nester), and now hosted by Crystal Stine), bloggers pick one topic and write a post on that topic every day in October.

Since I tend to the melancholy, I thought it would uplifting and novel to look for things that fall into the Philippians 4:8 category: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” My goal is to post something every day this month (um, well, the days that are left of it!) on my blog. I may share a photo, a few words encountered in my personal reading, an anecdote related to something I’ve observed in people and events around me, or even an event taken from the news. Time will see how this all plays out. But I do hope you’ll join me in this endeavor by reading my little offerings and perhaps sharing some of your own.

And so—let the adventure begin!31-days-of-philippians-4-8

Like Mother, Like Daughter?

007When visiting the redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains last week, I really wasn’t expecting to come across an illustration of an important parenting truth. But there it was, the albino redwood in its subtle beauty, reminding me of a lesson it has taken me many years to learn.

As my friends and I strolled through the towering redwoods, their rich bark a striking contrast to the verdant canopy overhead and the carpet of ferns and other greens below, Bambi, a park volunteer, approached and enthusiastically volunteered to share with us a few nuggets of the natural world.

First she showed us tiny cones that in the right time will disperse miniature seeds that will in turn birth coastal redwood giants. Incredible.

Then she led the way to a tiny albino redwood sprouting from its parent tree (another form of redwood reproduction). The paleness of the offspring’s delicate needles created an intricate pattern against the darkness of the parent tree, leaving me a bit awestruck by the way two plants so closely related could each be so vastly unique.

And I was reminded of one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned from parenting my daughter.009

She’s 16 now, and according to most people she bears a resemblance to me. Even Facebook has mistakenly tagged her photo for mine (probably because she doesn’t have FB). Despite the physical similarities, though, our personalities differ in some significant ways.

As a child and later as a teen, I was motivated largely by competition and approval, so striving for academic excellence was par for the course. Beyond academics, I thrived on involvement in extra-curricular activities such as sports, band, journalism, and the church youth group. In time, I learned which activities clicked with me, bringing joy in and of themselves, and I immersed myself in their pursuit.

Shayna, on the other hand, was content for years to operate at her own pace–a daydreamer’s pace. Stories of all kinds resonated with her, the quirkier the narrative the better. She would come home from school and recount Mr. Baglio’s boyhood adventures and her mentor Wendell’s takes on reruns of Get Smart and Monk. Stories still speak volumes to her, and she can quote lines from books and movies alike with a delight that runs deep and with an awareness that stories are the way she processes life. Beyond that, she’s also quite content to be something of a homebody. She doesn’t feel the need for constant activity nor does she seek approval through accomplishment. She rarely compares herself with others.

Truth be told, I kind of wanted to be a “tiger mom.” Early on I gave my daughter all kinds of opportunities for sports and classes. Thankfully, I couldn’t muster the drive necessary for insisting that she be someone other than herself. After all, she did resist, and strongly. A tiger cub was not what she was created to be.

Now, more than ever, I love and admire my daughter’s qualities. While at times throughout the years I’ve been hard-pressed to understand why she doesn’t desire the level of activity I thrived on for so long, I’ve learned to let her be herself and pursue the few activities that resonate with her being. I’ve learned, albeit imperfectly, to listen to her heart.

I’ve also learned from her example. She has a strength of character that usually enables her to resist peer pressure and stand up for herself. Would that I had known at her age how not to give in to abusive treatment or base my actions on fear of the negative opinions of others.

This summer, Shayna is acting on a dream of her own and volunteering at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In terms of academics, she’s becoming more and more of an advocate for herself, her education, and her learning style, and she takes pride in a job well doIMG_0886ne. As she begins to consider any one of a half-dozen future careers, she’s embarking on a journey of discovery, one in which she still travels at her own pace but one that will lead her where God wants her to go.

The analogy of the albino redwood only goes so far. How thankful I am, though, that this daughter of mine is true to her nature, a nature she shares in part with me but one that exudes a beauty and depth of character all her own.