Tuesday, July 15, 2014



Have you ever walked out at the end of a movie and thought, “That was a good movie, but something about it just isn’t sitting right with me?” I sure have. We, as Christians, are no different than any movie goer. We love exciting plot, thrilling suspense and spectacular special effects. The difference though, is that the Holy Spirit within us doesn’t always bear witness with the themes woven throughout the movie and we leave unsettled.

I had that experience when I watched Maleficent. Since I really enjoy fairy tales retold, I was interested to see how Sleepy Beauty might look from a different angle. From the beginning, I could not help but fall in love with the mythical land and creatures that were beautifully created. The plot twists were well thought out and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time wondering what to expect since the landscape of the fairy tale was so radically changed that I didn’t quite know where it was headed. When I left the theater, I was both in love with the story and disturbed by the themes. When I had time to process it, there were three major issues that I realized, as Christians, we should be aware of.

First, the character of Maleficent was a conflict to behold. She was described as a fairy, but wore dark clothing, had dark horns and large dark wings and her face was shadowed. My brain immediately recognized her darkness as a symbol of evil, but then she was portrayed as kindhearted and protecting.  The aspect of Maleficent that I recognized as disturbing was the similarity between her and the ancient demon known in Jewish traditions as Lilith. I realize this may have been the original design in Disney’s old Sleeping Beauty, but in that tale, she was solely evil and was not presented in a way that we should be sympathetic towards her. In this modern version, she is presented as powerful, dark and seductive, but when a cruel act is committed against her by a greedy, power hungry lover, we suddenly find ourselves feeling sympathy for her. I had a part of my brain screaming, “Warning, she’s evil,” while the other part longed for her to be avenged. I was as conflicted as her character.

Second, the plot of the original Sleeping Beauty required Prince Charming to destroy the thorn wall and vanquish the evil fairy turned dragon. Only after accomplishing the hero’s feat did he earn the right to offer true loves kiss. This was a strong image of Christ’s sacrifice for us which erased the curse and broke the power of the evil one. The work of the cross is the ultimate hero’s feat. Yet, in this movie Prince Charming’s kiss is impotent and it is Maleficent’s kiss that breaks the curse. Many people see in this asa a climatic redemptive moment where love helped right her wrong, but under the surface, this turn of events actually perverts the gospel that the original tale paralleled.
Finally, in the end, Maleficent offered Aurora an alliance. The dark fairies name means harmfully malicious and to the end, her countenance remained dark and brooding while Aurora embodied all things good and beautiful, giving this alliance all the appearances of a joining of evil and good, darkness and light. Though my sympathetic side wanted to cheer, there was a check in my spirit, because it felt all wrong. And that is how I left the theater. Unsettled.

If you liked the movie, does it mean you’re bad? No. By entertainment standards, it was an amazing movie. The Christian should be careful to understand though, that there are two powerful dangers working in a story like this. First, fairy tales were once used to teach children about virtuous character, consequences for behavior, the Christian themes of sacrifice and redemption and ultimately, how Christ loved us and gave himself to purchase our freedom. With fairy tales perverted and all illusions to virtue and redemption watered down or erased, we, as a society have lost a large part of the tools once used to shape a child’s soul for good. It’s also important to understand how media can draw from us sympathy for something that in broad daylight we’d recognize as evil. This is how so many Christians are being drawn away from their biblical beliefs into deeply conflicted cultural relevancy. The Proverbs warn us to guard our heart for it’s the wellspring of life. Even in our “down time” of decompressing and watching a fun, fictional movie, we should remain aware of this command lest we become so accustomed to sympathizing with evil that we are slowly drawn away into deception.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

When The Ugly Doesn't Change

Haze hides vivid colors and blurs all lines this winter. Smoke settled in the air months ago and there has been no rain to wash the air free of it. No rain. Trees stand fully robed in the brown of dead leaves. The storm that would normally shake them free of that death shroud and leave the naked bare branches stretching to the gray winter sky never swept through. There is an unspoken cry in the air, in our hearts.

The news in the last years has been filled with stories about the air board decreasing particulates and about new goals for stricter standards for pollution levels. So many agencies take credit for the last decade of cleaner air in this agriculture basin that makes up the belly of California, but God seems to want the last word lately. And I wonder if anyone is even listening.

For the last few weeks I have been reading One Thousand Gifts, and Ann Voskamp has used her ministry of words to coax from my heart a new song of gratitude. I have made my list, numbered and neat and it marches along a handful at a time as each day opens before me with a new perspective. I have found gifts in the beautiful. I have found gifts in the delightful. I have found gifts in the hospital room and doctors office. Late at night I find gifts as the house rests and my heart soars. But for one thing, I could not find a gift. I could not find thankful words for the view I see every time I drive my kids to school, or travel up the highway as my eyes are blinded by the smoky haze that taunts and torments my heart.

I could not find the beautiful in the ugly that is this valley’s air. 

Today I drove home from early morning drop offs, and I cried out in my heart for cleansing. I cried out for rain to rinse the very breath I take in. I prayed aloud, a thousandth time for God to spill forth his goodness from his storehouses. Cleanse us, oh Lord. Cleanse our valley. And a fracture appeared in my perspective. A shaft of beauty shot through the ugly. I found the elusive gratitude that I can offer back to God in this hard time. I found I can thank God, in this drought ridden land, that where man’s effort to cleanse falls short, He can rinse every stain of soot away. Where man’s effort never seems enough, requiring more rules, more regulations to bring forth the standard they aspire to, God can easily bring purity that no man could achieve. So, with pen in hand I numbered a fresh line: 

           81. The horribly bad air that reminds me how only God knows how to make clean all things.

This afternoon, clouds rolled in. Clouds that held no rain for us. Clouds that covered the sun and intensified the shadow of the filth in the sky. My lungs burned more, coughing and sputtering. 

It’s hard to give thanks when nothing changes. 

My mind turned towards all those unchanging things that wall me in lately: the disintegrating marriage of a loved one that wears ragged on our hearts, the ill health that came to visit my children in early December and has made itself an unwelcome guest since, burdens on my husband’s shoulders that get heavier and heavier while those in authority just pile on more.  The ugly sometimes stays ugly and I find myself struggling and wrestling to refuse the verdict that things will never change. I have too often consigned myself the victim status and whined and groaned and questioned God’s love for me and my value to him when the hard things refuse to budge. 

But, I have another choice now. 

Though the curse courses through these situations, if God is everywhere, can I open my eyes to find him here as well? Can I thank him for the gifts that are present in this difficulty unchanged? 

Thank you, Lord, that you have exposed the lie in this marriage and drawn a broken husband to you. Thank you, Lord, that illness has given me extra time with my daughter in these last weeks. Thank you Lord, that you strengthen the weary and lift up their heads. 

I am finding that the heaviness of this unchanging ugly is peeled back in the giving of thanks. My heart is opening to the giver in a way I’ve never known. As the leper was offered fullness of salvation when he returned to give thanks, so I am finding my wholeness becoming complete. And opened to me is the well of salvation that as I draw water from it, I find myself cleansed. 


My weary cry turns to joy in my God, my giver of all grace.

He who brings beauty from the ugly. 

Linking up with:

Womanhood With Purpose

Monday, January 20, 2014

One Word for One Year

My word came early this year. It pressed itself in during the deep dig of truth’s plow throughout Advent. It whispered to me in a quote shared by Ann Voskamp in her devotional The Greatest Gift which said:

A prison cell in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

As those words soaked through, I found I could pray only one thing.

 “Come, Lord.”

I had exhausted every option to gain freedom. I came to the end of myself and I cried aloud to him, “Come, Lord… I cannot get free.”

And, he came. All through Advent he met me. Nothing glorious or earth shattering. He came in the simple things. He came in response to my simple cries to him.

It was no surprise, then, when I prayed for this year’s word and heard, “Come.” I heard it clearly. I heard it deeply. I heard it on repeat.


Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

Isaiah 55:3 “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

I found myself in these verses. My bankruptcy and the promise of being met. My longing for life and connection to this God who offers love.

As I thought about this “Coming,” and as I pondered the “how” of this word, I came across the familiar story of the ten lepers. They called out to Jesus in the prison of their disease and he healed them. “And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)”

As they went.

They were healed along the way.

They had to step forward.

And I remembered these last 18 months. Have I not experienced healing in the moving forward? I read on:

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well [has saved you].’" (Luke 17:15-19)

Ann Voskamp visits this story, in her book One Thousand Gifts. She writes “Sozo means salvation. It means true wellness, complete wholeness. To live sozo is to live the full life. Jesus came that we might live life to the full; He came to give us sozo. And when did the leper receive sozo-the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks.” Then this, “We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.”

I think back on this healing journey I’ve been on and I understand now. It’s time to give thanks. It’s time to begin the lessons of gratitude. I cannot find myself healed and neglect the giving of thanks.

As I consider what it will mean to come to the Lord this year, I realize it will be in the offering of thanks for the details of life I have missed for many years. I will choose to look for the beauty in the ugly. For every small or big thing I find myself thankful for, I will be opening a door in my heart for Him to come. In every grace-filled moment or pain filled difficult season, my prayer is that my eyes can be opened to see joy in the now.

The Lord quickened my heart to a verse this year.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
                                                                              Isaiah 12:3

By offering words of thankful praise, I will draw one scoopful at a time of liquid salvation, the water that brings true wellness and complete wholeness.

I know that as I come to him in my thanks giving, he will come with joy and grace. I will grow to trust this God who for so long has beckoned my reluctant heart with the plea, “Trust me,” for trust will grow in the soil of gratitude. This will be my first year of finding contentment where I am. For too many years I have burned with the desperation to be somewhere else, to be fixed, to be anything but what I am. As Ann so simply states,

“life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.”
(One Thousand Gifts)

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”

                                                                                                                        Psalm 95:2

 I'm linking up with Bonnie Gray at:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Little Girl's Gift

I was surprised by fear last night.

In the brittle cold I sped down the freeway as fear caught up with me and settled right down into my heart. I was taking my daughter to the emergency room. I couldn’t get her stubborn fever down. We were sitting at 104.7 when I called the clinic and they said, go. 

Numb typically takes over in the expanse between my small town and the sprawling complex of the children’s hospital. Forty minutes of numb, which stretches into several hours of numb while I wait for doctors to treat whichever child happens to require the extra care. 

This time, numb didn’t come. Fear did. And that was new for me. 

When I feel fear, I feel small. I feel alone, like I’ve done something wrong; like I am not being strong enough.
But I decided to refuse “strong”. I also refused “understanding”. 

I let fear come, and I invited Abba to come. And I let a friend know I was scared, so I wouldn’t feel alone (that felt a bit silly, but I knew it was what I needed to do). 

One moment at a time, I stayed present, for my daughter, with the little girl inside me so close. Fear helped me know how miserably ill she was. Fear helped me be moved to compassion. Fear helped me know to rub her back or stroke her hair. Fear showed me to hold on tight to her hand when the needles came, and to keep holding tight when they were gone. 

This too was new. 

So often, my offered comfort has been forced and I always had to guess at what a loving Mom should do. I was usually angered by the required effort. Then I felt guilty on top of that. To be present in the fear allowed me to be present in the comforting. It allowed the little girl in me to be comforted too

I have despised this little girl in me for her weak emotions. 

Now I am learning how this little girl’s emotions are a gift that will make me strong. 

The Lord is calling the lost parts of me home. As I invite Him to come, He invites them to come.

 In this, I celebrate Advent in a way I never have.

This too is new.

I'm linking up with:
Bonnie Gray at Faith Jam
Nacole at Concrete Words 
Woman Hood With Purpose: Friday Link-Up Party

Womanhood With Purpose

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Faith Barista: Giving Myself Permission to Freefall


I have a confession to make. I realized it today as I was putting all of my fall decorations away. I enjoy the fall better than Christmas. How dare I, right? And this year is so much worse. Blame it on the unseasonably warm weather that just this week finally gave way to artic air. Blame it on the lazy leaves that refuse to fall and scatter themselves keeping me in a kind of autumnal limbo. Blame it on a late Thanksgiving that has me far behind in our traditional Advent activities because I was too busy to decorate for Christmas and our Advent wreathe is still in a box somewhere, up there.

Fall is the “just right” season. It’s, for me, the most comfortable season. The colors are warm, the temperatures cool. I drink it in like that favorite seasonal drink, squeezing out every drop of enjoyment before the weather shifts and the tastes move on to other delightful flavors. I love that first blush of color that creeps in during October. The staggered explosions of orange, yellow and red thrill my heart. There are new sights daily. When the first leaves begin to fall, a carpet of color unfolds beneath the trees, doubling the grand beauty.

And of course there are the leaves that refuse to let go. This year there are many of those in our neighborhood since 70 degree weather made it convenient for the leaves to take their time. I find myself connecting meaning to those stubborn leaves still clinging to the branches. I am clinging too. I have gone through a long spring and summer of change, and transformation. My true colors are no longer hidden and I am enjoying the vivid shades of the fall palate that has been expressed in my soul. And I want to stay here. I want to stay in this time, this leg of the journey. I’m just beginning to figure it out and get good at it. I’ve discovered grief. I’ve given myself permission to feel something other than anger. Grief has brought tears that, like that first autumn rain, has cleansed the dust and grime from the tired foliage that survived the relentless summer furnace. I survived that barren summer too. I outlasted the desert heat of my hard packed heart that expressed no emotion and sealed tears far below the dry surface. But now, the rains have come, the softening has begun. The colors, newly rinsed, glow brilliantly. I feel cool relief seep into deep places. I don’t want to let go of this season.

Yesterday, an arctic blast sent its frigid fingers into Central California and stirred up a bitter wind shaking reluctant leaves from swaying branches. Showers of color captured my longings and fears. I saw the Holy Spirit dancing through the limbs of my soul, chasing leaves from the branches, tossing them upwards in a celebration of the something new to come. But I’m not so sure about this. The hardness of the icy air made me pull the edges of my coat tight around me. It was unsettling watching the leaves finally give up their stubborn vigil and surrender themselves to the free fall. Am I ready for that next level of surrender?

The citrus farmers here are busy. They know the icy blast that chased away the pleasant weather is necessary. It’s the only thing that can bring the sugar to the fruit. But too much cold can bring severe damage. They prepare for the cold by turning on large fans to circulate the air around the trees. They also run water over the trees and underneath. This water, when frozen, forms an insulation that keeps the trees at 32 degrees not under it. At 28 degrees, damage can start. Large oil burners raise the temps in the orchards as well.

I hear truth whispering to me. For sweetness, I must learn to tolerate the bite of temporary climate change. When the weather hardens and harsher exposure is required of me, I must learn to be thankful and understand its purpose. When the Lord wants to pull sweetness into my spirit he allows the ice to come for a time. I must prepare for it. I must seek the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. I must be soaked in the word so that I may stand insulated by the Lord’s promises. I must find authentic connection with those my soul is warmed by.

So I give myself permission to free fall from one season into the next. I turn my face towards Christmas. I turn my heart towards the manger. I turn away from the comfort of fall. As the cold wind chills me, on my knees I find something better than warmth seeping in. As the branch of Jesse is manifest before me, those bitter waters that so plague me within, they begin to sweeten. I soak deeply in the Advent scriptures and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to me about the next leg of the journey. I embrace the chill. I let the winter come.

I'm linking up today for JamWithMe Thursday at Faith Barista:

photo credit (first photo): paul bica via photopin cc