Summer Sabbatical

Today is the official “first day” of a three-month writing sabbatical. I say “writing” as if I am actually going to write. Maybe I will. Or maybe I just need time to think.

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Fifteen years ago when I turned fifty—after a decade of painful reflection, slow rediscovery and deep healing—I was ready to put the past behind me and lean into life again. With plenty of fear, but also anticipation, I opened my mind and heart to new opportunities.

As an introverted homebody, the scope and scale of “new opportunities” were unexpected and oft-times overwhelming.

South Africa. Zambia. Democratic Republic of Congo. Israel. Palestine. Jordan. Iraq. The global AIDS crisis. Immigration reform. Peacemaking. Refugees. Public speaking. Hosting women on international trips. Climbing Kilimanjaro.

What a privilege to go where I’ve gone and do what I’ve done and meet who I’ve met!

But recently I’ve been aware that I’ve been showing up to fulfill commitments—to give a talk, or host a gathering, or lead a trip—without having the necessary time to be still, think, pray, and prepare myself adequately.

Just this weekend, prior to a speaking engagement, I felt so stressed out from rushing that I was unkind to someone who asked a simple question. I don’t want to be that kind of public person.

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Of course, it’s not just the public side of life that needs a tweak sometimes. I find it especially interesting to move between my roles as grandmother and daughter.

I have two priceless grandsons (Henry, 9 and Mac, 4), who have brought more delight into my life than I could have imagined. Nothing and no one pulls me back into the simple pleasures of life like they do. Spending time with them is a nonnegotiable!

On the other side of family life, I recently journeyed through my dad’s cancer and then grieved my mother’s death. Nothing has ever been as tender as the sweet times I spent with my mother during her final months.

I’m so grateful I had the freedom to bounce back and forth between the boys in Illinois and my parents in Michigan. But I logged a lot of miles on the roads that stitch Illinois and Michigan together via Indiana and the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Adding those miles to the miles I spent on planes for ministry trips meant I never stayed in one place for long.

Did I mention I’m an introverted homebody?

So, that brings me to today, and this sabbatical, and the waves I’m listening to right now as they lap against a sandy beach.

For twenty-five years Bill and I have enjoyed a simple 1150-square-foot cottage on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan’s eastern coast.

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With the pace of life in recent years, I haven’t spent much time here lately. But for the next three months I’m planting myself here. Bill will come and go, as will kids and grandkids.

(Actually the grandsons are coming tomorrow, which is why I’m writing today!)

My first priority as I settle in for the summer is to pull some weeds and plant some flowers. My brain is as overrun with weeds as are my little gardens. Hopefully, my fingers touching dirt and leaves and roots will help loosen the vines of old thoughts knotted in my mind.

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Interestingly, I just found some old journals I’d stored here at the cottage. They reminded me that twenty years ago I spent an extended time here, too. That was a difficult era as I worked desperately to shape a healthier life emotionally and spiritually. (A story for another time.)

Thankfully, I’m not in a painful space like that now. But I do recognize the need to step back a bit to gain a new perspective on my life.

I’m grateful for what the past fifteen years have been.

But how best do I move into the future?

How best do I honor the people, the places, the ministries I hold dear?

How best do I steward the years to come?

Life looks different on the edge of 65 than it did at 50!

So, here I am.

I might blog a lot this summer. Or not at all.

I might post an endless stream of sunsets and flowers and grandsons on Instagram. Or none at all.

I might write book reviews of all the amazing books I’m going to read. Or I might just keep pulling weeds.

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But however the days unfold, this will be true:

I will be grateful as I reflect on and learn from the past.

I will be intentional as I lean with unrushed attention into the present.

I will be prayerful as I look ahead, trusting God to help me discern how best to move into the future.

Whatever your summer looks like, may you enjoy your own moments of gratitude, intention and prayerfulness—mini summer sabbaticals!

PS I was actually here for a few days last week and did some weeding and planting. Sadly, a cute little bunny nibbled his way through my herb garden last night. Gone: fennel, dill, parsley. And there’s one more sadly empty hole amongst the herbs, but I can’t remember what was in it. Apparently that darn little bunny even snatched the neat little label I had made! I hope my gardening experience improves in the weeks to come.

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Israeli & Palestinian Women Against Violence

Since 2009 I’ve traveled to the Holy Land two or three times each year to learn from Israelis and Palestinians committed to peace. I’ve met incredible men and women–Jews, Muslims and Christians–religious and secular–who show up day after day to work together for the sake of a nonviolent resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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Among these heroic, steadfast people is a group of Israeli and Palestinian women–all followers of Jesus–who have completely captured my heart and earned my deepest respect. Refusing to let the hostility and hopelessness of their respective communities define them, they have chosen the long, slow path of learning each other’s stories and experiences.

Out of their shared understanding, they are speaking out. Though their respective communities hold to different theological and political perspectives, they are convinced that as followers of Jesus they have only one option: to seek a nonviolent resolution that honors the dignity, freedom and security of all the people in the Holy Land.

Here is their name and logo. Please read their press release below and join me in signing your name to their bold and brave statement.

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Press Release: In His Image – Women For Change

Nine Israeli and Palestinian women serving with different ministries in the Messianic Jewish, Israeli Arab Christian and Palestinian sectors of the Evangelical churches in Israel/Palestine have issued a statement opposing the use of violence. They invite you to join with them in prayer for the conflict and to endorse this statement.

Using a broad definition of violence as “any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates or destroys ourselves and others,” the statement challenges the status quo of the deeply divided communities and calls for a renewed commitment to seek peace, justice and security for all in Israel and Palestine.

The statement calls for a renunciation of violence in all its forms—military, political, social, psychological and spiritual—and condemns both the recent spate of attacks on citizens and the use of force to maintain the occupation.

In His Image – Women for Change is co-ordinated by Shireen Awad, a Palestinian Christian; Lisa Loden, an Israeli Messianic Jew; and Shadia Qubti, an Israeli Palestinian Christian.

The statement is the result of a three-day retreat in Amman, Jordan in March 2016 and was unanimously agreed upon. Previously, the group issued a statement on unity within the community of faith and the challenges facing their communities.

The group, originally called “Women in Ministry in Israel and Palestine,” exists to encourage one another; to inspire and enable other women to express and serve in their gifts and callings; to influence the current male-dominated leadership of their faith communities; and to challenge the status quo regarding women in leadership.

Shadia Qubti says: “Actions reflect our words, and our words reflect our heart’s desire. As women of faith, we have a place to express our hearts. United we speak for a non-violent resolution to our conflict and we extend this desire to our brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine, and worldwide.”  

Lisa Loden says: “We know this statement challenges the status quo of our deeply divided communities, where violence is so often accepted as an inevitable consequence of the intractable, long-term conflict. But we call on all who believe in the peace-making ministry of Jesus not to accept the limitations of our flawed humanity, but to challenge and change our own attitudes, and the communities and societies to which we belong.”

Shireen Awad-Hilal says: “We are both Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian, but as women who serve the churches and congregations of this divided land we want to speak out against the ongoing acceptance of this division, and unite with one another despite our divisions, calling on Israeli and Palestinian alike to renounce violence as a means of achieving their own agendas.”

Please read their statement and add your voice to theirs. These women have received and will continue to receive criticism from many groups who believe they are denouncing their own communities by partnering with the “other.”

Let’s applaud their words and actions by adding our names in support. For the full statement and list of endorsers see: www.inhisimagewomenforchange.com.

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A Few Thoughts on Guns & The Armor of Light

I originally wrote this post in February, 2013, when my friends at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism invited me to join the Faiths Calling initiative to help stop rampant gun violence. In the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook, they were seeking laws that could make our nation safer. Sadly, such laws are yet to be passed. 

I’ve revised the blog for a new purpose: to support the important documentary, The Armor of Light, showing tonight on PBS at 8/7c. I’ve met the filmmaker, Abigail Disney, and Rev. Rob Schenck whose story is told in the film. Together, they’re committed to creating a new conversation about guns in America. It’s an important film for all followers of Jesus to watch and consider.

Several years ago, when my then 27-year-old son was preparing to sail a 42-foot sailboat around the world, concerned friends and family members asked the inevitable question: will he keep a gun on board?  It’s not uncommon for ocean-crossing sailors to carry guns as a defense against pirates, but there’s an ongoing debate.  Continue reading

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Kilimanjaro #3: Remembering the Mountain, Remembering My Mom

A year ago I took my Mom to the garden center to get flowers we could plant on Mother’s Day. Over the previous two years, as her aging mind had increasingly lost track of much it had once known, this remained: her passion for flowers.

In the early morning hours she was still “the Queen surveying her Kingdom” as she walked between her tiny flower beds.

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Christians, Muslims and the Golden Rule

“Do you think it’s safe to meet with the Christians? I’m afraid they will hurt you. Please text me as soon as the meeting is done, so I’ll know you’re okay.”

These were the words of a junior high-aged Muslim boy when he learned that his Muslim American mother was going to meet with a small group of Christians. He was sure she was entering a very dangerous situation.

The mother shared her son’s words when I asked her what it was like to be a Muslim in America in 2016.

On a wintery Saturday morning several friends and I were gathered with about fifteen Muslim men and women in a small meeting room in a mosque not far from our church. Continue reading

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About Refugees: A Preacher, A Professor, A Rock Star & Me

Each spring for three weeks my church, Willow Creek Community Church, focuses on the work that our church partners are doing in under-resourced communities throughout the world.

Everything in our weekend services, midweek services, and children’s ministries focuses on how followers of Jesus around the world are being the hands and feet of Christ as they address issues like food security, healthcare, clean water, economic stability, education, leadership development, and others.

This annual emphasis is called Celebration of Hope (COH) and it’s my favorite time of year at Willow.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro #2: Why We Did It

5 days. 21 miles. 19,341 feet. 38,680 steps.

That’s a lot of uphill walking!

As you might expect, a fair amount of words accompanied those steps. Fourteen passionate women facing a common challenge for a shared cause do not lack subjects for conversation. And trust me, the Kilimanjaro climbers of One Million Thumbprints are nothing if not passionate!

Still, you can only talk so much. As one of the more introverted climbers, I had perhaps a lower threshold for conversation than some. But even the most talkative among us slid into long stretches of quiet reflection—moments when the rhythmic repetition of slow steps freed our minds to meander.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro #1: We Actually Did It!

Really! All fourteen women climbers with One Million Thumbprints reached our goal: we made it to the top of the highest freestanding mountain in the world, Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro, at approximately 8am on March 8, International Women’s Day.

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The Day One Million Thumbprints Was Born

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On my first visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009, I met a woman named Charlene in a massive camp for displaced people. Like hundreds of thousands of others, Charlene and her family had been forced by the violence of Congo’s civil war to flee for their lives, leaving their homes, their fields, everything they owned. Ending up in camp shacks made of sticks and tarps, these displaced women had to forage in the forest for firewood to trade for food. While they searched for wood, many of these women—including Charlene—were brutally raped by rebel soldiers. Charlene’s story broke my heart and bound me to the Congo.

Three years later, I returned to Congo with a group of friends. Continue reading

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Evening Prayers

Sleep does not come easily to me; it never has and I suspect it never will. This year, as a Lenten practice, I am reading nightly from Yours Is The Day, Lord, Yours Is the Night, a prayer book edited by Jeanie and David Gushee. Here are a few of the selections I’ve appreciated recently. I’m finding in these words prayed by others a calming focus for my thoughts.
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