The Practice of Pondering (by Jean Fleming)

The following full-length article first appeared in Discipleship Journal (a discontinued publication of NavPress). You’ll find a condensed version of this article (with Ann Voskamp’s excellent photography) at Ann’s place today. Don’t miss it!

Giuseppe Momos' double helix spiral staircase in the Vatican
by Jean Fleming

Have you ever sunballousa-ed? If not, you should try it. Our Lord’s mother, Mary, did. It characterized her life.

The word sunballousa is Greek for “placing together for comparison.” In Lk. 2:19, the word is translated “pondered.” The Amplified Bible translates Lk. 2:19 this way: “But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart.” Later in that chapter, Luke says that Mary “treasured all these things in her heart” (v. 51, emphasis mine).

What things? The words of the angel Gabriel. The words of her cousin Elizabeth. The words of the shepherds. The words of the Old Testament about the coming of the Messiah. Every developing event, every new word, might yield more light to this astonishing unfolding. So she kept adding to her treasure store. She held all that was happening in a precious bundle. Over and over again, she unpacked it and spread it out on the table of her heart. Each time she would arrange the pieces anew, placing the various elements in fresh configurations. Continue reading

7 Days of Soul Care, by Dolly Lee

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Good news for Dolly Lee’s readers: 7 Days of Soul Care is now available. Let me introduce you to Dolly.

About Dolly Lee

dollyheadshotDolly Lee believes in the power of God’s love to transform a person from the inside-out. She’s grateful for how God’s grace allows second acts and second chances.

Dolly has lived and wrestled with the soul care practices and questions she writes about in 7 Days of Soul Care: A Guide to Letting God Do the Extraordinary with Your Ordinary. In 1999, she asked God to show her how he created and designed her. She wearied of trying to fit her circle in the square expectation of certain key people. God led her on a surprising journey of self-discovery and a deeper experience of his love through some valley lows, mountain highs, and the mundane daily. In short, God led her into darkness, shadow, rays of light, and eventually to greater light. Because of her experiences, she believes in the power of God’s love and presence to transform and redeem brokenness into unexpected beauty.

Since late December 2010, she has blogged at Soulstops.com where she invites readers to stop and connect with God. She has also written for online venues, such as Tweetspeak Poetry, Deeper Waters Ministry, The Mudroom, the Jumping Tandem Retreat blog, and had her poem, “Laundry,” published on The Curator. Since fall 2015, she has attended Fuller Seminary. She has also participated in Peninsula Bible Church’s two-year intern program and the St. Ignatian Spiritual Exercises through the Contemplative Center of Silicon Valley.

She has been married for twenty-five years to her best friend/husband. They have one daughter (a grace gift), who keeps them on their toes with her questions, and one demanding but lovable dog. A lifelong Californian, she enjoys hiking, reading, and sharing meals with family and friends.

Her goal is to collect enough in royalties from the sale of her book, 7 Days of Soul Care, to donate $500 to the work of International Justice Mission.

Q&A with Dolly Lee

Get to know Dolly a little more with a few Q&A’s:

What is your book’s big idea?
Dolly Lee:
We let God do the extraordinary with our ordinary when we connect with God in our everyday moments—whether marvelous or mundane. And our connection with God grows when we can trust and believe God’s unconditional love for us. And our belief in God’s love allows us to be exceptional (which I define as connecting with God to be our best as God created).

I believe “each person’s best has a distinct and unique worth” in God’s eyes. Being your best, as I define it, is not about comparison and competition.

For example, I greatly admire and respect Ann Voskamp and I saw 700+ people signed up to launch her latest book, The Broken Way. I prayed for many to read her book because I believe in its message. I’ve lived it, and I’ve been privileged to know people who live it and continue to do so.

God asks me to be faithful with my best and so I am and I don’t let competition or comparison derail me. Though I admit, the enemy of my soul did tempt me to give up. But God’s love and grace (and friends) picked me up and told me to keep walking—one step at a time.

What are three reasons someone should buy your book?
Dolly Lee:

  1. They help IJM rescue more victims of human trafficking because my goal is to raise $500 for IJM via royalties.
  2. A reader can get some of the benefits of what I learned: a) from counseling (without paying for it), b) from God as I wrestled in prayer over deep heart issues, and c) from wiser spiritual leaders.
  3. If the book’s message resonates with them: connecting with our extraordinary God transforms us so we can be exceptional in our ordinary life.

Why did you decide to raise $500 for International Justice Mission with royalties from your book?
Dolly Lee:
Two reasons.

  1. I can’t grow a beard. Last year, IJM’s newsletter shared how a guy shaved half of his beard to raise money and awareness of IJM’s human trafficking rescue and restoration work. I prayed: “What can I do to help besides donating money (which we do)”? I don’t have a beard or any hair I want to cut in a dramatic way.
  2. Our church had an IJM Freedom Sunday when I was finishing my book and the thought came: why don’t you donate royalties? $500 is a God-sized goal for a small blogger like me. God can do more if he chooses, but for me, this is another big step of faith beyond publishing and writing this book. God keeps reminding me: my role is to trust and obey and not to worry about results. I keep asking God for the grace to trust and to keep moving forward.

Find out more about 7 Days of Soul Care!

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Do It Again, Lord! (Guest Post by Cynthia Hyle Bezek)

I am delighted to host Cynthia Hyle Bezek as today’s guest writer! Cynthia’s greatest passion and privilege is to help ordinary men and women connect with an extraordinary God through prayer. Leading people into satisfying, two-way, relational, personal conversation with God is the aim of whatever she does, whether as an author, editor, prayer leader, speaker, teacher, mentor, or prayer retreat leader. The following is reprinted with permission from Let’s Talk: Deepening Your Relationship with God Through Prayer.

Desert Sunrise I

Do It Again, Lord!

by Cynthia Hyle Bezek

Sometimes I get annoyed with Bible people. Like this morning. I was reading in Exodus and getting really excited about God. He parted the Red Sea for the Israelites—incredible to imagine! And then when the Egyptian army tried to follow, the waters crashed down on them and they all were destroyed. What an amazing rescue!

Is it any wonder the people rejoiced and worshiped? Moses led them in a song of praise to the Lord. And then his sister, Miriam, led all the women in a joyful dance before the Lord. As I read, the people’s joy nearly vibrated off the pages.

“I will sing to the Lord. He has won a glorious victory!”

“The Lord is my strength and my song. He is my Savior. This is my God, and I will praise him, I will honor him!”

“O Lord, who is like you? You are glorious because of your holiness and awe-inspiring because of your splendor. You perform miracles!”

“Lovingly, you will lead the people you have saved. Powerfully, you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The Lord will rule as king forever and ever!”

(excerpted from Exodus 15, God’s Word translation)

But a mere two verses later, I got pretty upset with the whole lot of them. For Pete’s sake, they act as if God had died! True, they’d traveled for three days in the desert without water. That’s a problem. But instead of asking God for help, they griped about Moses. Instead of trusting God to provide for them as He had done not even 72 hours earlier, they whined: “What are we supposed to drink?” (verse 24).

I paused from my Bible reading. “I cannot believe these people!” I said out loud.

Really? a Still Small Voice asked in reply.

I realized I’d been busted. The Holy Spirit was gently pointing out how much I have in common with the Israelites. Immediately I thought about a situation that I’m struggling with. It’s a genuine problem, no less real than the Israelite’s need for water. And I am utterly incapable of solving this problem. If I think about it very long—like more than about three seconds—I am very likely to gripe and whine, just like the Israelites did.

The irony is, like the Israelites, I have also experienced God’s deliverance in desperate situations. I can name at least three examples of God’s loving intervention, working things out in ways I never would have imagined, and never could have orchestrated on my own.

Still, I forget. The new crisis looms in front of me, and I forget the victory song I’d sung just a few days earlier. Or I doubt. Sure, God delivered me before, but who says He’ll do it again this time?

Either way, my responses are not pretty.

God, I don’t want to be like the Israelites, I told Him this morning. You have delivered me wonderfully before. You have walked through fires and floods with me on other occasions. You have never abandoned me. You have never failed me. I am sorry I forget. I am sorry I doubt. Please help me to remember Your deliverance. And please deliver me again.

It’s a full 15 hours later, and God has not answered my prayer yet. He has not led me to water as quickly as He did the Israelites in Exodus 15. I’m still waiting for His deliverance. But however long I have to wait, I want to do it with faith, not doubt. I want to hope in the Lord. I want to trust that He will help me—as He promises always to do when I call on Him. So that has been my prayer throughout today, and probably will be for days to come: Help me to remember, Lord—and please, please do it again!

Looking back

Photo credit (bottom photo): Susanne Nilsson via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo credit (top photo): TLV and more via Flickr Creative Commons

Rethinking the Building Block (Caltech Alumni article)

Caltech alumni Charles Sharman (and in some photos, with his wife, Monica, and son, Byron) display the building toys that he and Monica create at  their company, Crossbeams.   (Photo by Glenn Asakawa)

Toy companies Roominate and Crossbeams, both founded by Caltech alumni, challenge traditional ideas of what a toy is, whom it’s made for, and how it can inspire.

Read the full article on Bettina Chen and Charles Sharman at Caltech Alumni news:
Rethinking the Building Block

Guest Post for Jean Fleming (and some updates)

I used to think being a sweet fragrance for Christ meant directing that fragrance to others—living so that people will like me, even if that meant conforming my personality to theirs.

But in my thinking, the direction of the aroma was all wrong. Being a sweet aroma does not mean being a people-pleaser. We are a fragrance of Christ to God …

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I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer for Jean Fleming: Live the Mystery. Click through to read the entire article, Two Aromas (and get a peek into my Bible-reading journal, including some drawings and doodles like the ones I wrote about in Behold the Beauty, chapter 4).

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UPDATES on my book:

  • Behold the Beauty is now available in paperback!
  • Did you know this book is in the free Kindle Matchbook program? This means that if you buy the paperback, you can get the Kindle version for free! (So, for example, you can buy the paperback to give as a gift, then keep the free Kindle copy for yourself.)
  • You can get a signed copy for $10.50 (shipping included). Many thanks to Snowflakes in a Blizzard for including Behold the Beauty in their Christmas gift list. For details, click through to this link and scroll down to the Religious or Spiritual section—or use your browser’s search function to find “Monica Sharman” or “Behold the Beauty.”

May we know God more intimately and be conformed to the image of Christ. Blessings to you and your families this Advent season!

On Holiday Traditions (Guest Post for Deidra Riggs)

Have you ever seen a gingerbread Leaning Tower of Pisa?

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When Deidra Riggs invited me to share about holiday traditions, I decided to expand on the gingerbread creations I mentioned briefly in Behold the Beauty chapter 16, “A List of Personal and Family Rituals.”

Would you like a lighthearted read this Thanksgiving week? I invite you to click through to join me here: The Gift of Engineering for the Holidays (with thanks to Deidra)!

Holiday-Traditions

Bible Out Loud

Storytime

Ever since our firstborn’s first day home from the hospital, we’ve been reading out loud to our sons every night. The book we chose to inaugurate this ritual? Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.

Not your typical bedtime read-aloud book, but for a one-day-old, we figured it was okay. Our main goal was to establish the daily routine early.

Besides, we ourselves wanted to read Ivanhoe. Also, the newborn began to learn and recognize the sound of his parents telling him a story.

After Ivanhoe, we switched to board books and picture books—Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Sandra Boynton’s Moo, Baa, La La La!

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We read them slowly, savoring the words and illustrations. We read them so many times that, even now, I can recite them by memory and tell you when to turn the page: “In the great green room / There was a telephone / And a red balloon / And a picture of— [turn page] the cow jumping over the moon.”

Before my second son started walking, he used to crawl to me, dragging a book in one hand. I remember sitting on the floor (as I often do) with my back against the bookshelves, watching him bring me another Sandra Boynton. Here he comes.

As he crawled into my cross-legged lap, I resolved to stay put and read the book to him no matter how many times he asked.

So when I turned the last page and he said, “Again?” I read it again.

And again.

Through every iteration, I made sure to still read it slowly and enjoy the story. No rushing.

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We read that book seven times in a row before he crawled out of my lap. I stayed, waiting to see if he would ask for the eighth.

Of course, we adjusted as our sons grew older. Five or ten minutes of bedtime reading turned into half an hour or more. On weekly library trips, we took home Frog and Toad (Arnold Lobel), Poppleton (Cynthia Rylant), and colorful, well-mannered dinosaurs (Jane Yolen).

Deep and thoughtful discussions became part of bedtime reading as we read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Count of Monte Cristo (all unabridged). Currently, my husband is reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper to our nine-year-old, and I’m reading Shelby Foote’s The Civil War (Volume I) to the older two boys.

The initial intent stuck: we established a habit of reading every night, fifteen years and counting. The fun ritual that started with a one-day-old who slept through most of Ivanhoe has become part of our routine, part of our relationship.

Hear the Bible Out Loud

When was the last time someone read aloud to you? When did you recently sit down for nothing but the joy of hearing good words artfully woven together?

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How to Listen to Bible Gateway’s Audio Bibles

1. Go to BibleGateway.com, hover over the “Bible” tab in the upper left, and click on “Audio Bibles.”

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2. Choose your preferred audio version. (For a special treat, try one of the versions “by Dramatized”!)

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3. Choose the book of the Bible . . .

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4. . . . and the chapter.

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5. Press play, and hear the story!

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Consider it a treat. Someone is reading aloud to you. Like the child who asked for the same book seven times in a row, savor the story and hear it as many times as you want by pressing “play” again and again.

Related:

Did you know about International Day of the Bible on November 23, 2015? Check it out.

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A portion of the above is excerpted from Behold the Beauty: An Invitation to Bible Reading. For more details, including quotes and the book trailer, visit the book’s web page.

A portion of the above first appeared in one of my articles for Charity Singleton Craig’s How to Bring Words to Life Column, 5 Reasons to Go to Storytime (even if you don’t have children).

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Photo credits:

Elliot Margolies, via Flickr Creative Commons

Alexander N, via Flickr Creative Commons

For quote image: denise carrasco, via Flickr Creative Commons

Silver, Gold, and . . . Paper (Guest Post for Dena Dyer)

Do me a favour Project 365(2) Day 269

You know the 25th anniversary is Silver and the 50th is Gold. Do you know what anniversary is Paper (my favorite)? Did you know the 21st is Brass?

I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer for Dena Dyer. Click over to read my piece on wedding anniversaries.

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Photo credit: Keith Williamson, via Flickr Creative Commons

Carrying Weight

We spread out two nights’ worth of backpacking, covering the entire lower level of our home with sleeping bags, Therma-Rest pads, two tents, freeze-dried dinners, rain gear, S’mores ingredients, fishing lures, flashlights . . . did we forget anything? We roll, fold, stuff, tie, pack, and squeeze the air out. We’re able to confine our shelter, food, clothing, and every need into five packs, compact and tight.

Our backpacking preparation always culminates with the same ritual: we weigh each pack before the trip. Tense and unmoving, we watch the scale until its numbers settle. Then comes a trumpet accolade and the announcements:

Charles: 51 pounds!
Monica: 28 pounds!
Derek: 15 pounds!
Titus: 10 pounds!
Byron: 3 pounds!

The packs weigh more than they did the last trip, and our faces beam.

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At the trailhead I shoulder my load, taking pride in every pound. I keep track of how much I carry. I am proud of the weight on my back.

It is my own weight, mine, and I carry it alone. My strong legs take the trail and its 1,000-foot elevation gain. I can do it.

Self-sufficiency is an illusion, and I fall for it again. As a result, anxiety hovers close by, ready to swoop down on me. I am now a clear and easy target, having marked myself with pride.

But anxiety’s deadly talons never reach me. God’s Word has come between.

So, humble yourselves under God’s strong hand, and in his own good time he will lift you up. You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern.

– 1 Peter 5:6-7 (Phillips)

Father, I don’t want to hoard my worries from You. Protect me from thinking that I operate on my own strength. I recognize that without You I can do nothing. Teach me (again) humility, which is an anti-worry shield. Show me how to shed pride and transfer the weight from my shoulders to Yours. I want to labor for You, but only by taking the yoke of Jesus. With this yoke upon me, may I learn from You and find rest.

When we humble ourselves each morning by casting all our cares on the Lord, we will start the day free of care. The humble are genuinely care free.

I’ve discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.

– C.J. Mahaney, in Humility: True Greatness

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It has been six years since I wrote the above, and backpacking is different now. Instead of going twice a year, I go once. Each son’s pack is heavier than mine.

I don’t feel strong nowadays. Instead of taking pride in the number of pounds in my pack, I gladly transfer as much weight to my husband’s and sons’ packs as they will take.

When people asked, “How far do you go on a backpack?” I used to say, “As far as the youngest hiker.” Now I answer, “As far as I can go.”

Yet the temptation to self-sufficiency can still be strong, and I need humility now more than ever.

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To read 1 Peter 5 (entire chapter) in the Phillips translation, visit BibleGateway.com.

What If (Guest Post by Jill Case Brown)

You’ve read about my friend Jill Case Brown before, when I posted a review of her YA novel Safe. Now I’m delighted and honored to host Jill for a guest post. Funny and witty, humble and wise, Jill is also an excellent writer. I’m glad my readers can get to know her a little.

From the “About” page on Jill’s blog:

The big picture: living vibrantly when part of life is hard. This blog will mostly be about how life changed for both of us when my husband, David, broke his neck in a 2009 bicycle accident. Spinal cord injury, or SCI, makes things harder—but it doesn’t have to make them worse. It can even make some things better.

I also invite you to check out her Facebook page: Jill Case Brown Author

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by Jill Case Brown

Our refrigerator was to blame. It really was. Sometimes I stand in front of it and say, “You know, I could hate you.”

But I don’t. It’s a good refrigerator, and I like it. We’re not getting rid of it.

David and I bought this old house when the previous owner gave up her plan of opening it as a bed & breakfast. She’d already done the big work, like electricity, plumbing, heat and air conditioning, remodeled bathrooms and kitchen.

I especially love our kitchen. It glows with morning sun and is beautifully designed, the most workable kitchen I’ve ever had. But the only space for a refrigerator snugs up against a cabinet, and the one that came with the house was an enormous side-by-side. Instead of opening all the way, the freezer door thunked to a stop at a ninety-degree angle.

After a couple of months, I was fed up with blindly slithering my arm into the freezer and coming out with surprises. I’m not a great cook anyway, and this didn’t help.

“I give up,” I told David, waving a package of frozen peas that was supposed to be a chicken. “Let’s replace this monster.”

So we did. We chose a smaller one, with doors that open away from the cabinet and can swing wide.

The new refrigerator was to arrive early Tuesday morning. David and I planned to get it settled in, then drive to work together for a meeting. But—surprise, surprise—time for us to leave, and still no delivery guys. At the last minute, David took off on his bicycle. He’d wanted the car, since he also had a lunch appointment that would require travel, but I still hoped to make it to our meeting if the guys brought the refrigerator in time. (They didn’t.)

A common experience. Who hasn’t had one like it?

This time, though, the consequences went deep. On his way home from work that afternoon, David skidded on gravel and launched off his bicycle, onto a rock and into his new life as a quadriplegic.

As you can imagine, that leaves me with a whole list of what-ifs. They start broad and fairly painless: What if we hadn’t moved here? What if we’d bought a different house? What if the previous owner had left a more appropriate refrigerator? What if the delivery guys had been on schedule? What if David hadn’t wanted to save money by downsizing to just one car?

Then the items get sharper: What if I hadn’t fussed about the old refrigerator? What if I hadn’t pushed to buy a new one? What if I’d told David to take the car that day instead of keeping it for myself?

That last one really pierces. After cycling to and from his lunch appointment, he was probably tired and less able to avoid the accident. If he’d had the car . . . if I hadn’t been so selfish . . .

I’m aware that what-ifs serve no purpose except to scourge the soul. I’ve been that route before, and it never takes you where you need to go. So the third time I caught myself standing in front of the refrigerator, running the list through my mind, I said aloud, “Can’t go there.”

Hard things happen. That’s just life. And whenever the urge to what-if comes up for this particular hard thing, I know exactly what to do with it.

Blame the refrigerator. It doesn’t mind.

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Photo credit: Kevin Marsh via Flickr Creative Commons

Guest Post on Bible Reading at Soul Stops

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I’m delighted and honored to be a guest writer at SoulStops.com. Many thanks to Dolly Lee!

Why do I compare Bible reading to the Saturn V rocket, and what do I call the moon? I invite you to read my article at Soul Stops.