Spiritual Practice: Writing

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Writing as a spiritual practice? Of course! Every religion has its writings. I remember when my spiritual director said that writing was a form of prayer. I was blown away. Anything done with intention toward God is a form of prayer. So, I’ve been pondering this question lately: Why do I write? And especially, why do I write books? Obviously, there are other things I could do with my time. But, writing seems to be something I feel almost driven to do.

I’ve tried writing off and on many times in my life but for some reason, this is the first season I’ve been able to take a finished book and see it through the rewriting/editing/publishing process. Maybe I just had to be old enough to have the patience for it.

photo of person holding book

It feels like there’s something more though. I’ll never forget the kinship I felt, while attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in 2014, when I heard Brian Doyle speak. He was a poet, novelist, essayist, and editor of Portland Magazine. Sadly, he passed away suddenly and too soon, at the age of sixty. During his talk, he told us how three of his friends died in the twin towers during 9-11. He was too distraught to write about it until his little daughter came and said,

“Dad, you always tell us not to waste our gifts. Your gift is writing and you are wasting it.”

Then he decided to tell three stories about 9-11: One about a couple who may or may not have known each other but chose to face death together and jumped from the building holding hands, another about a man that wheeled a woman in a wheelchair down 80 flights of stairs then ran back to get more and didn’t come out, and the third about a fireman who kept going in and out saving people until he came out no more. He said our stories about hope and beauty help push back the darkness in the world and we need to keep telling them. I hear you, Brian. I hear you.

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This is the way I feel about writing and it felt good to hear someone else say it.

I believe our stories are sacred and somehow push back the darkness in a very dark world. I write because I am driven to shine a light, no matter how small, and say to a hurting world, there is hope.

How about you? Why do you write?

 

Want more? Check out my books!

Photo Credit: Writing,   Colored Lights

Shared Stories Photo by Mark Neal on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: Keeping a Dream Journal

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I’m in a car, heading to the retreat center with two friends, and our conversation topics include Dolly Parton, letting go of baggage, and having your breasts cut off. What on earth were we talking about? The dreams we had the night before. It was interesting to me that the day after I’d decided to write about the importance of dreams, we all had spiritually significant dreams to talk about! Especially my Dolly Parton dreaming friend, who never remembers her dreams.

Dream interpretation has gotten a bad rap over the years because it’s often been done poorly. But, done well, it can become a very beneficial spiritual practice. I tried it about seven years ago when someone mentioned it could be helpful. I found a book called, The Chocolate Covered Umbrella, a short book that looked at dreams from a Jungian perspective.

The book encourages you to get a notebook and start writing down your dreams, even fragments of dreams, as soon as you can in the morning. In fact, savoring them before you even get out of bed will help you remember them. Writing down these scraps of dreams will “prime the pump,” and you’ll begin to remember more and more of your dreams.

You don’t have to focus on the images, e.g. A snake= sex or flying=freedom, in fact, I would caution against that. But, after you right down the dream, you can ask yourself these questions.

  1. How did the dream make me feel? Different parts may have raised different feelings.
  2. Take each character in the dream and ask: if that character (person, dog, etc.) is a part of me, what is that part of me saying, wanting, needing?
  3. Is there an overall theme to the dream? This can be interesting over time if you begin to see the same theme emerging from several dreams; it may be important to listen to.
  4. Is there something the dream is leading me to do? Change? Release? Heal?

A word about nightmares. Nightmares are just as important as dreams, maybe even more so. If you have a nightmare, try this (when you are awake and safe). Picture the monster or scary part of the nightmare and have a conversation with it. Ask, “What are you trying to tell me?” “What do you need?”

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I did this dream journaling for a solid year and it was really helpful. I believe there is great Biblical evidence that God speaks to people through dreams. But, there are also pastrami dreams that you get from eating weird food, and there are also stress dreams. Stress dreams are the most common types of dreams and help you sort out your day-to-day life, the things on your mind when you go to bed. All types of dreams can be a fountain of wisdom and information from your unconscious, to help you learn and grow during your waking hours.

But, God dreams are the most significant! They might bring significant healing or give you wisdom about a difficult decision. Don’t worry about discerning the different kinds of dreams, just enjoy getting to know your unconscious self through your dreams. Pondering God dreams led me to write my first book series, The Birthright Series, in which I used dreams to lead a group of teens to help people in trouble.

Hold on to your dream journal though. I took mine to a conference and left it in the nightstand at the hotel. When I called the Hotel to ask, they could not find it. That means somewhere out there someone is reading a journal thinking, “Wow, this person must have been on drugs!”

Give dream journaling a try and let me know what you discover. Have you tried it before? I’d love to know how it went for you.

*Don’t forget, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening is out in paperback and eBook. Get your copy now. It’s full of fun spiritual practices for you to try and has a great storyline too!

Photo Credits: Dreams and Dream Journal

Embracing the Mystery: Moving Toward Unity In The Second Half Of Life

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Mysterious Forest in the Pacific Northwest

The goal of the second half of life is to move from “doing” to “being.” I heard that somewhere, probably from my spiritual director. But what does it mean? It does not mean we stop doing things or that we should not enjoy doing things. But our jobs, roles and things we do no longer come to define us.

I was sitting in a small room in Mercy Center with my wise spiritual mentor and a candle burning between us to symbolize the presence of the holy. I was pondering aloud the love and care I get from the “older” saints from my previous organization.

If you’re new to this blog, let me summarize: I worked for a large Christian organization for 30+ years, but I was asked to leave over a difference in theology. It was kind of a big deal. I believe that my rainbow friends should be fully included in the body of Christ and allowed to marry; my employer disagreed and we parted ways. In retrospect, it was best for both of us!

That was almost two years ago. I keep in touch with a few of my friends from those days, the ones that are more like family, but also, there are these “older” saints I mentioned. When I say older, I mean older than I am. Most have retired or are looking at retirement from this organization.

I guess I thought they would be the ones who would try and correct me or “give me a talking to.” But it was the complete opposite. They have not changed towards me at all. They continue to include me in their lives as if nothing had happened, and their love for me remains truly unconditional and sweet. They are like the grandparent who watches their grandchild with love and amusement as the child tries on different personalities in middle school. “Ah, it’s Jacci, isn’t she the cutest thing? I just love her.”

My spiritual director linked these two thoughts for me. As we find our identity in “being” and not “doing” we become more loving and patient with others who are also trying to find their way.

People always quote Richard Rohr to me on this topic. His book Falling Upward speaks to this idea. As we age, we can move closer to unity with Christ, and it puts everything else in its proper perspective. We worry less about who will the next president or if a football star stands for the national anthem. We can trust, listen, love and smile, knowing that others are on their path and I am on mine. It is quite freeing actually.

In full disclosure, I have not read Rohr’s new book, but it is on my short list. I did read this intriguing quote from it though:

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a Love, which is incomprehensible to the mind.” 

So that is my goal. To move toward the mystery and not get bogged down in things I can’t control. I want to love like those older saints who have been so good to me.

How about you? What lessons are you learning as you mature?

Photo Credit

Becoming a Butterfly: the anatomy of change

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I’ve been thinking about change. I know if you follow this blog, you’re thinking I write a lot about change, but what is life about if it’s not about growing and changing? Anyway, I was talking to my spiritual director and she told me that when a caterpillar enters a chrysalis, it actually dissolves into primordial soup before it reforms into a caterpillar!   

It doesn’t take much to see the analogies to our own growth here; something has to die before something new can be born. We have to let the old things actually dissolve before the new can come.

Well, this was just too cool, so I had to google it. And I found out these cool facts on Scientific American. The analogy just gets better!

First, the caterpillar dissolves itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve its own tissue. So, WE have to do the changing or at least consent to it. We can’t wait for anyone to do it for us. We have to allow parts of us to die – those parts of us that don’t serve us anymore, those things we’ve grown beyond, or those we want to get rid of.

Second, not everything in the caterpillar dissolves. There are highly organized groups of cells called, “Imaginal Discs,” that contain the DNA to make the new butterfly. This DNA already exists within the caterpillar and is just waiting to be activated. The seeds of the changes you need to make are already within you, just waiting for a chance to grow! And I LOVE that they’re called Imaginal Discs. Just IMAGINE the changes you want to make!

Third, once the caterpillar has been dissolved, the Imaginal Discs use the protein rich caterpillar soup to fuel their growth! So, don’t despair, nothing is wasted. All the crap we have experienced: the failed relationships, the regrets, all the old dead things we need to let go of, are only fuel for the new growth!

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I was quite encouraged by this analogy as I’ve felt that I’ve been in the primordial soup phase for a long time: dark, unformed, unsure that I’ll survive. But now I feel that the Imaginal Discs are starting to kick in and that I’m forming into something new. I don’t know what that will look like, but hopefully, it will be something beautiful!

 

Photo Credits: butterfly, mine.  Chrysalis Siah St. Clair

 

Say Something

Man with duct tape over his mouth
Man with duct tape over his mouth

When I was trying to understand about Racial Prejudice (I am still learning and will be always), I learned that keeping silent during times of injustice is a power position that comes with privilege. That is if I am not directly affected by injustice, then staying silent doesn’t change my personal experience. But those directly affected by injustice only stay silent at a significant personal cost.

White America has forgotten how to lament. Did you know that the Psalms of Lament and the entire Book of Lamentations has been removed from many prayer books? We have forgotten good Friday and we have jumped to Easter. We’ve taken on a happy, positive Christianity.

But that is not real life. Real life is hard, and scary, and messy – as we have learned in Orlando.

Please watch this short video about the rough day when I learned not to stay silent in the face of injustice but to “mourn with those that mourn.”

 

I encourage everyone to say something about the tragedy in Orlando. You may not think you have any friends in the rainbow community, but you do, and they are hurting and afraid. Here are some templates you are welcome to cut and paste to help you “say something.”

“My heart is breaking over Orlando.”

“Praying for the families and friends of all who were lost in Orlando.”

“Praying for the men and women killed in Orlando, their families, those caring for the wounded, and the first responders who rushed into the gunfire.”

“I can’t stop crying.”

 

It doesn’t ‘t take much. You can practice here if you want. Tell me how you are feeling about Orlando.

Photo Credit

Being Fired from a Church is like a Messy Divorce

Just-Divorced

I was talking to my spiritual director about the “deep well of sadness” that occasionally surfaces since being asked to leave my former employer (eighteen months after being asked to leave). She said, “It’s like you’ve been through a messy divorce.” No words ever felt as true or helped me so much.

It is like a messy divorce. When you’ve been connected to someone or something a long time (okay, my entire adult life) you are very intertwined with them: you have the same friends, you share kids, all of your best and hardest times involve these folks…how do you separate that? I mean, I hear myself still saying “we” when I discuss this organization, as in “We got a new president!!” Really? It’s time to move on, we are not a “we” any longer.

Since I (thankfully) have not been divorced from a marriage, I chose the “phone a friend,” option for help. My friend has some fantastic ideas to help me begin the separation process.

  1. First, she said, it’s important to name your feelings. Sometimes all the feels get mixed up and it’s hard to discern what you are actually experiencing. Name them: Am I sad? Am I mad? Frustrated? Angry? Furious? Bitter? Hurt?
  2. Second, look at the divorce from the other person’s perspective. If he/she was explaining why you broke up, what would they say? Be honest, what parts of what they would say are true? Then, you might need to forgive yourself for your mistakes or make amends.

This was a really helpful step for me because I tend to think I was the one who got “left” in this relationship. I felt like I wanted to stay married, but they divorced me. During this reflection exercise, I realized that the things they would say were true. We had a long term, beautiful relationship, but we began to see things differently, they drew a line in the sand about a policy, and I was clearly on the other side of that line. I can own that. I’m the one that changed, not them. And, in retrospect not only is that true, but I’d do it again. I don’t need to forgive myself, because I feel like it was the right side of the line to be on. This was incredibly freeing. I’m SINGLE! I need to start acting like it.

  1. The next part was to do the same process with how you saw the breakup and forgive them for their part.
  2. Next, pretend you are the mediator between these two sides. What would you say to them?

This is a helpful process to decide what to do next to disentangle yourself, for instance:

  1. Who gets to keep the friends in the divorce? This is a tough question. But, clearly there are sides that get taken and I needed to let go of some folks who took the other side and sort of disowned me. Why was I hanging on to them? To emotionally unlatch from some folks, I went through my Facebook friends and unfollowed a lot of them. I didn’t want to unfriend anyone, I still care about them, but I don’t need my feed to be filled with updates from that ministry either. That helped.

I’m working on what it means to be unattached to someone/something after so long. There are some times I’m sure I’ll slip and say, “we.” There are still kids and friends we have in common. But, I’ve taken a good step forward towards “SINGLE!”

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How have you unattached yourself from a long-term relationship or organization you needed to leave? Share tips so was can learn from each other.

 

The Holiest Moment at the Writers Conference

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I guess I wasn’t expecting to have a holy moment at a writers conference, even though it was called, The Festival of Faith and Writing. I mean, I’ve been there twice before. I have been moved while attending: moved to think bigger thoughts, moved to be a better writer, moved to change the world, but I wouldn’t necessarily call those holy moments; although in retrospect, they probably were. But this was different.

To explain it, I need to give you a little background, in case you just started following this blog recently. You see, for about thirty years, I was part of the branch of Christian faith that had a “conservative” view of the LGBTQ community. By that I mean, it was what we’d call, welcoming, but not affirming.

About ten years ago, my thoughts on this began to change, until my theology became both welcoming AND affirming. Because of this change, I needed to move away from the more conservative organization I worked for, which is to say, I was asked to leave. This was a painful, but necessary, move. I loved and missed the people I had been working with for over thirty years.

The Festival of Faith and Writing is a wonderful conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is held at a Christian college in the heart of the mid-west. But, it tends to have speakers from the whole spectrum of Christianity – and from other faiths too. If you’re familiar with names like Anne Lamott, Rachel Held-Evans and Shane Claiborne, you’ll know what I mean. This year, Nadia Boltz-Weber was a keynote speaker. Nadia, a Lutheran pastor, is famous for her foul mouth and sleeve tattoos. She pastors a very welcoming and affirming church in Denver, Colorado called, The House for all Sinners and Saints.

(Click here for her website)

nadia

Now, here’s where the holiness comes in:I had driven to the conference with some old friends from my previous organization. All the pain from those days of being asked to leave was gone, and I really enjoyed their company at the conference. We were all sitting in the room together, at the end of the conference, when Nadia spoke.  

She was warm and charming and a hugely packed auditorium of mostly white Midwesterners embraced her fully. She had us all laughing as she said things like, “Every congregation should have a drag queen, but there may not be enough to go around.” She had us thoughtful when she talked about the integrity of the liturgy and her love for it, because “It doesn’t need me.”

Then she had us all stand up and sing the hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. And that was the holy moment for me. I was standing with friends from an organization that asked me to leave because of being an LGBTQ ally. We were standing in a room full of Christians who probably felt the same way as those friends. But, we were being led into worship by a woman who was herself an ally and who was encouraging others to be allies. The tears began to roll down my face as we sang these words:

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise

This, for me, was a little bit of heaven, because for the first time in many years, there was no division, no arguing, or name calling around something that has literary divided churches and broken denominations. For the first time we could all stand together and sing in praise. The auditorium was full, the acoustics were good and these folks knew how to harmonize! It was beautiful. It was an incredibly holy moment for me, it was healing, and it gave me hope for the future.  That one day, this issue did not divide us, we will be able to stand side by side and sing praise.

I’m so grateful that it came at a writers conference, the place of my most joy.  

Where have you experienced a surprising holy moment in your life? I’d love to hear about it. Share it in the comments below.

 

Photo Credit, Heart on Fire by Jonathan Cray, click to listen.

Spring: growth, hope and risk taking

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You can’t be in California right now without noticing spring. It’s bursting out across the land like a woman decorating herself with jewels. Formerly barren branches are filling out with new growth, deep green shrubs are tipped with a bright lime color, and the gardeners are busy. Weeds are pulled and dead growth is being cut back to make way for new life. And the flowers…oh, the flowers.

I come to California every spring because, as a Nevadan, I have sensory deprivation. Yes, the desert is blooming too, and I love it, but it is nothing like the abundance in California.

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And I can’t contemplate spring, without thinking of my soul, your soul, souls in general. Many of us have been in spiritual winters, as well as the physical season. Many of us still are. But spring is a reminder, that there are seasons, that nothing lasts forever, that hope, new life, and resurrection come to all.

So, what does Spring hold for you? What new risk, new adventure, new joy will you try? I asked this at a weekly group I attend and one couple said they were going to take the plunge and buy a house, one brave single woman is adopting a child, and one man will finish writing a book.

For me, I want to take more risks in letting the world know about my books. I’m applying to speak at writers’ conferences. I’m applying for grants; I’m querying agents. These risks make me feel vulnerable, nervous and vastly alive.

I have a writing friend who hates speaking in public. Recently, she had to read her work in front of a crowd. She was scared and told us so, but you know what? She did it anyway. And those of us who heard her words were better for them. I’m thankful she faced the fear and did the hard thing. The world needs your gifts, your words, your love, your energy.  It’s time to come out of that cocoon and spread those new wings.

Two books have been challenging me to take risks this spring: My Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person, by Shonda Rhymes

and Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I love listening to these books on audio as the authors themselves read their books aloud. Both will give you a push to get out there, take risks and create.

If you feel stuck in winter, I recommend Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. She’s so helpful about our hard times and our failures cause growth. We all have dark times; it’s how we rise that matters.

I’d love to hear your hopes for this spring. What new thing will you try? What new risk will you take?

Three Ways to Bridge a Difference

bridge2If you don’t know why #blacklivesmatter, or what to think about immigration, or where to start in understanding all the letters in LGBTQAI, this is the blog for you. In a world so full of differences, it’s hard to know how to bridge the gap between “us” and “those not like us.”

I remember what happened when I got into a tense conversation with a friend of another ethnicity. I shut down. When she asked why, I said, “It feels like I’m gonna step on a land mine.” She said, “I need you to be willing to step on land-mines for me, Jacci. We may hurt each other’s feelings, but we need to talk about these difficult things if we’re going to be friends.” Since then I’ve been committed to hard topics so that I can learn, and grow, and understand the fascinating people in our world.

Interested? Here are three easy ways to get started.

Discussion: The easiest on-ramp to understanding culture, ethnic and sexual differences is to find ways to learn and talk about them. This is a short on-ramp for becoming a more open person and expanding your thoughts about the world. It is easily done through media. If you’re a reader, find a friend, read a book together and discuss it! This can be a book on any subject, like ethnicity. I’d recommend the book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: and other conversations about race.”

or “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian history of the American West,”

or if those sound too heavy, try “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

Read a book and talk to your friend about what you learned, about the culture, and how the differences made you feel. Highlight positive things you didn’t know about that culture.

You can do this with movies too. Watch, “Smoke Signals,”

or the documentary, “Trans,”

or order the movie, “Through Our Eyes,” about kids who grow up in Christian homes and come out as gay. Then discuss it with a friend or friends.

You can make an outing of it at the theater, or a cultural museum, like a Holocaust exhibit. All of these are excellent ways to learn the language around a difficult topic – because each topic has its own set of terms. Discovering how you feel about differences is the first part of building a bridge to someone with that difference.

Displacement: If you’ve ever been out of the country, you’ve experienced displacement. To be where people have a different language, culture, and food, puts you in a displaced position. You become, “other,” than the majority. That is a good thing. It helps you to identify with what non-majority people experience daily. But you don’t have to leave the country to do this. Try one of these displacement activities: Attend a church of a different ethnicity, volunteer to work with immigrants or the homeless, or attend a PFLAG meeting (Parents and friends of lesbians and gays). During the displacement phase, it is important to be a good listener. Use phrases like, “tell me more,” and then listen to understand.

When you displace yourself, you find out what you don’t know. I remember sitting in the home of a same sex couple when one woman said that someone had mistakenly referred to her as a lesbian. My husband and I looked at each other in confusion and asked her to explain. She gladly educated us on the fact that many people see themselves as non-binary in their sexual attraction. She described herself as pan-sexual, falling in love with a person, not a gender. I’d never heard those words before.

Develop meaningful Relationships: As you discuss topics that are foreign to you, you become more open to them. As you displace yourself into new cultures, you begin to love and appreciate them, and have empathy for what it feels like to constantly live as “other.” Hopefully, then, you will begin to meet people in these other cultures whom you want to get to know better; to develop friendships with. You invite them to your parties and they invite you to theirs. You begin to do life together and attend each other’s children’s birthdays. Being around my gay friends used to feel like displacement to me, but after awhile, they were no longer my gay-friends, they were just my friends. I trust them with all that is most important to me. Once you get to the place where people don’t feel “other” to you, you have effectively built a bridge across a cultural barrier!

Eager to become a “world citizen?” Follow the three D’s to learn how to enter the world of someone different than you. And be prepared to grow and change.

What ways have you learned to build bridges across differences? Share any things you’ve tried or would like to try in the comments below.

Photo credit

Life, When You Get Better At It Thoughts on the New Year

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I was meeting with my peer supervision group of spiritual directors, a group of wise women whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. And I was trying to describe my life at the moment.

Being an extrovert, I often don’t know how I’m doing or what I’m thinking until I start to process out loud. My description went something like this:  “I feel like I’m ping-ponging through life. I’m just bouncing from one event to the next, without really preparing. Like this talk I have to give on death and dying at the seminary on Thursday, I haven’t even prepared for it, but I’m not worried about it. This is just not like me!”

One of the wise women asked, “How was your life different in the past?”

“I would have written an outline, and every word of the talk, and have memorized it. I’m used to planning my life, not just bouncing through it. But, strangely, I don’t feel guilty; it’s actually kind of freeing. I’m enjoying my quiet time in the morning and my yoga, and each day, I ask: ‘Lord, what’s most important for me to do today? Give me your eyes to see. Show me how to love well.’ It feels different. It feels like life — when you get better at it.”

All the wise women stopped me there and made me write that last phrase down, “Life, when you get better at it.”

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Maybe I’m growing up. Maybe I’m finally learning what’s important. I don’t need to spend so much time stressing, preparing, outlining and rehearsing my life. I just need to be attentive to the spirit of the divine and keep my eyes open.

This month I was invited to a healing party. If you’ve never heard of one you’re in good company. I think my friend just made it up. She is one of the wise women mentioned above. She sent out actual invitations, and of the eight of us that came, most had physical healing needs. She had a liturgy printed out, along with an order of service. Each person shared and was prayed for in turn. My friend had even made some special essential oils so we could be anointed.  It was short, sweet and amazingly lovely. I don’t know what all the outcomes were. I know I felt loved and received a word about “gentleness,” which I am pondering.

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, I pick a word, or phrase, to pray into for the New Year. This year I’m picking the word “Gentleness.” I want to be kind and gentle to myself. I want to be kind and gentle to others. I want to live life – like when you get better at it.

The world does not need more strident, yelling, shiny, evangelicals. The world needs gentler, loving, kind Christians. As Dr. Patrick Fung said at a recent Urbana convention, “God is not looking for spiritual giants, but rather for those willing to carry spiritual lamps that shine for Him.”

In 2016 may my spiritual lamp shine with gentleness, hope, and love.  I want to do life like I’m getting better at it.

What is your hope, phrase or special word for the new year? If you share it, we can pray for each other this year.