Tag Archives: faith

The Way Up Is Down, Part 4: Seeing It Through

The way out is through.

For Lent this year, I chose to do the Whole 30 eating plan. I wasn’t feeling well in the area of digestion. I never felt hungry, always a bit bloated, and quite lethargic. I knew something had to change in the way I was eating. The Whole 30 isn’t a diet, per se, rather a gastric reset. The goal isn’t weight loss, but digestive health. The Whole 30 prescribes eliminating all processed foods, added sugars, grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol. It wasn’t easy, but with the program being time bounded, 30 days, it was doable. I made it.

Even though I saw the program through, I don’t feel that I made much progress. There was more to the process than I anticipated. I think this may be true with anything we do to bring about change in our life. We start the process by implementing a program. We reach the end of the program, expecting to be done with the process, only to find out that the program was only the beginning of the process.

Programs reveal, empower, and relieve. They show us what needs to change and give us tools to make changes, which provide a sense of relief. If we are honest with ourselves, though, this is only scratching the surface of a much larger, longer, and deeper process of change.

I know that I need to revisit the Whole 30. I also know that there are a few other programs that I need to revisit in order to continue processes I previously started. This begs the question. Will I ever be done? Will there be an end to the process? I feel the answer is yes and no.

Yes. Most processes will come to an end. The process will have done its work. You will emerge in a better place, state, stage, etc. Even though the active work of the process will be done, you will continue to carry the work of the process. It will be assimilated into your life and will inform how you live your life. The work won’t feel like work, because it will just be life.

No. We will never not be in some sort of process. Life is full of destinations and arrivals. Finally arriving, in which we will never need to be in process, is not for this life. Sanctification, enlightenment, or whatever you choose to describe this arrival, has within it a recognition of incompleteness. Our completeness is found when we realize that we are a part of a larger whole. We are incomplete, and yet we make whole that which is incomplete without us. These little arrivals empower us to continue on in the process of living this life and even encourage others to begin their own process.

The way out is through.

“Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me?’ Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”
John 16:19-20 (NIV)

Seeing a process through can be very difficult. From the passage above, Jesus said you will weep and mourn. It will seem like you are the only one going through your process. It will feel like others are rejoicing. They’re not. Their life will just look different than yours. There will come a time when the process will come to an end. Your grief will turn to joy.

The way out is through.

Grace and peace,
Brook

semicolon tattoo

I got this tattoo for my 45th birthday. It reminds me to stay engaged in my processes. When people ask me what it means, my short answer is, “My story is not finished.”

The Way Up Is Down, Part 3: Enacting Change

This post is a continuation of a series I started earlier this year.
The Way Up Is Down
Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

The way up is out.

You know something’s got to give
A change needs to be made
It’s not just bettering for better’s sake
It’s not sustainable anymore and without change, it will only get worse.

Or

Even though things are good, better is coming sooner than later.
Things are going so well, that space needs to be made for the real growth that is happening.
Like a child outgrowing her shoes or a hermit crab outgrowing its shell, the way up is forcing its way out.

road leading out into the desert

Stress and pressure are powerful motivators for change. Even though stress and pressure are uncomfortable, and even painful, it is not all bad either. The above examples are two ends of a spectrum. These ends represent the need for change due to negative or positive stimuli. Moving toward the middle, the stimuli reduces. It has been said that the only constant in life is change. Even in the middle of the spectrum where motivating stimuli is minimal, change is inevitable.

We all find ourselves somewhere along this spectrum. The thing to do is to get a bird’s eye view of your situation. Where are you along this spectrum? And, if you find yourself somewhere around the middle, are you experiencing a respite, the doldrums, or are you like the frog in the pot, unaware that the temperature is slowly rising?

With last weekend being Easter, I’m reminded of what Jesus said to his disciples during his last supper with them before his passion. “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  John 16:7 (NASB)  In this Jesus reveals that in order for his disciples to make the greatest impact, he would need to step aside and let them follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, just as he himself had done.

Where do you identify in this story? With Jesus, realizing that he was the bottleneck for his followers’ development as leaders? Or, with the disciples, understanding that growth only comes when we push our limits, explore other paths, and follow the Spirit’s lead (John 16:13)? The way up is out.

As a personal example, my attention to this blog has been intermittent at best. I have been preoccupied, and at times even overwhelmed, by other more pressing things. This has led to a lack of output, which leads to a sense of stagnation. Yet, not a day goes by where I feel I have got to write something. I miss this. I miss writing for you and for me. My heart tells me that in order to get beyond this stuck, plateaued, and stagnate feeling, I need to put myself out there, start writing again, and open myself again to the flow of thought, creativity, composition, and correspondence. The way up is out.

Of course, this is only one of many areas in my life that need me to be brave and find the way out that leads up.

Enacting change doesn’t have to be drastic. The idea I’m trying to share is to be proactive. Evaluate, make a plan, and start. Start small, but start. The key is that the change we make takes us out of our old patterns that weren’t working and onto a new path with new goals and new outcomes. We can allow change to happen to us, or we can gain a bit of perspective and enact the change for ourselves. It’s all up to you, and it’s all unto me. My hope is that as we examine our situation, we find the areas that need change and the pathway out that will eventually lead up.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Surveying the Terrain: The Way Up Is Down, Pt. 2

In this post I would like to expand the thought process I shared last week. This will be a high-level approach, with not much detail. I hope with this that it will provide an overview that will lead to more in depth exploration and discussion.

The way up is out
The way out is through
The way through is down

Looking out over the Silicon Valley

The way up is out.

Progress. Improvement. Development. Increase.
Not an exhaustive list, but enough to point out that as a species, humans are upwardly focused. This is all good, except when we try to go up with sheer effort. It’s no secret that the greatest gains and largest strides of improvement happen when we think outside of the box or take an outside perspective. To do this involves appreciatively setting aside our accomplishments and trusting the process, even when out looks nothing like up.

The way out is through.

Stepping out is probably the most difficult aspect of this process. It goes against everything in our nature. For the most part, our survival depends on security. Moving outside of our comfort zone challenges the very notion of security. For this very reason, we need to go through this process in order to see security for what it is, what it does, and what it hinders us from doing. Walking through will bring us face to face with our values, passions, commitments, and messages. This will be painful. It may feel like it will never end. Our demons will scream louder than our angels. You may even die to things you never thought we an issue. Just when you think you can’t go through any further, you will find out that you are not alone in this process. The community gained on the journey will make the pain of the process worth every tear.

Looking up at a trail descending to a rocky stream

The way through is down.

We relate the negative with going down, negative thoughts, actions, relationships, and events. The reality, though, is that no one is immune from negativity. The negative provides the opportunity for us to ask questions that can give us a deeper understanding of ourselves, our relationships, and our world. This depth of understanding gives us the foundation to realize a depth of living we never thought possible. Few would say that personal and interpersonal depth is negative or down, rather positive and the source of life’s highlights.

This thought process has come full circle. It gives us a view of the terrain ahead. Having walked through this process a time or two, I don’t wish it upon anyone, but discovering its benefits, I do encourage all who are not willing to settle with whatever the world gives you to embrace this process.

I would appreciate your thoughts.

Grace and peace,
Brook

In All Things

Recently I have been watching prior seasons of the reality show Survivor. One scenario that is in the back of everyone’s mind, both contestant and viewer, is the blindside. A blindside is where contestants work together to get a player voted off the island, except the targeted player is usually clueless of what’s coming. From the recipient’s perspective, blindsides are never good, unless God is orchestrating the blindside. Let me briefly share my “God blindside” that happened this morning.

My day probably couldn’t have started any more off than it did, outside of some major tragedy. When I came into the office, a faithful friend and co-worker, sensed I wasn’t doing well, so he asked if I was ok. All I could verbalize was that I wasn’t ok. He gave me a gentle encouragement to trust that God is at work in whatever is going on.

I sat with that encouragement as I started work for the day. An email from a friend regarding this Sunday’s worship gathering at VLC was also a source of encouragement. Her proposed theme comes from 2 Peter 1:2-8. Soon after that, God reminded me of Romans 8:28.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

Sunset through distant trees as tall grass waves in foreground

What I referred to as a “God blindside” is nothing more than being surprised by God’s proactive lovingkindness on my behalf. God’s benevolence intersected my path and drew me into the present moment, where God’s presence fully dwells and the only place where God’s love can be fully recognized and experienced.

As I reflected on the passage above, the phrase that stood out to me was “in all things.” I realized that up until this point, I was asking “why” questions regarding my situation. This passage helped me to see that I needed to be asking “how” and “what” questions. For instance, “How can I participate with God not only for my benefit, but for the benefit and benevolence of those who are walking with me in these painful times.” (You can read “for my benefit” as submitting myself to God’s presence to learn and grow with openness, graciousness, and love.) Another question is, “What can I do to become and remain mindful of God’s active presence in all things, moment by moment?” These are the questions that came to me as I reflected on God at work in all things.

If you are questioning, struggling, or needing an encouragement of God’s love for you and yours, please know that God is at work in all things, and that we can trust that God has our best at heart.

May the promise of God’s active presence and lovingkindness lead you to the experience and trust of God’s goodness and love.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Twenty-third Psalm and a Box of Chocolates

an uphill trail obstructed with roots and rocksI trust you’ve had a good week and are enjoying the ever changing spring weather! (Well, that’ what it’s been like here in the Silicon Valley.) It kind of reminds me of that famous quote from the movie Forrest Gump. “My momma always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” One day it might be hot, and the next quite cool. One day it might rain, and an other will be clear and breezy. All of this also reminds me of a very familiar chapter in the Bible, Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley, (Or, the dark valley of death)
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.
Psalm 23, NLT

Within this poem, David declares that throughout all life’s circumstances the Lord will be with him, meeting every need according to God’s will. There is so much to learn and wisdom to be  gained by sitting with this passage and letting the Holy Spirit show us what is best for the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. May we always remember that God is good, the Spirit’s words to us are true, and the Lord is forever faithful and always with us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

People of Good News

two chairsThe theme for our worship gathering at Valley Life Church this Sunday is First in Mission. As I was thinking about it, I was reminded that as Christians we are to be people of good news. This doesn’t mean that we need to be “shiny, happy people holding hands,” but rather people of hope. This was Jesus’ message when he read the following passage from the scroll in the synagogue.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18-19, CEB)

This passage is a message of hope for people who need good news. We receive good news from people who have received good news. We can’t give what we don’t have. So, how do we get the good news? This was Jesus’ first message he preached.

“The time has come, and the kingdom of God is near. Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News.”
(Mark 1:15, GW)

We receive the good news when we change the way we think and act and realize that God is here, now, working with and for us for our good and God’s glory. It’s this change of perspective that allows God to bring freedom and healing in our lives, which establishes hope in us. It is this hope that we get to, in turn, share as the good news. Jesus’ message of hope from Luke 4 is also the scope of his ministry, which is now our ministry as the body of Christ.

If you have hope, share hope. If you need hope, reach out. I have learned that those who know and love us also have hope to share with us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

Auld Lang Syne for the New Year!

You may be like me, curious about the song we hear sung just after the stroke of midnight of New Year’s Day – Auld Lang Syne. When I was a kid I thought the words were “Old Anxine,” and that people were singing about not having anxiety anymore about what happened last year. Once I learned what the words actually were, I just said to myself, “Oops!” and didn’t give it much thought, except on New Year’s Eve.

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Sunset at Half Moon Bay, CA

Recently, I read an article explaining what Auld Lang Syne meant. Here is the definition according to the article.

“Auld Lang Syne” was originally a Scottish poem that was later set to music. The phrase “auld lang syne” translates literally to “old long since” in English and means something akin to “times gone by.”

The song refrains that, “We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” I feel that it is generally agreed upon that taking or lifting a cup, as in a toast, is for the purpose of remembering. Since we actually only sing the first verse and chorus on New Year’s, the song for us is about remembering old friends and times gone by.

I think it is noteworthy that this song is sung at New Year’s celebrations, because the new year is synonymous with “Out with the old, and in with the new!” at least in western cultures. So, what would an appropriate response be as the calendar date turns from 2015 to 2016, and how shall we treat the previous year?

First of all, we let go. There is nothing we can do to change the past. Second, we remember. How has the previous year shaped us, for good or not, through experiences, and by people and God? Remembering is important, because it helps us to take stock of what we learned, how we’ve grown, who we loved, and who loved us. Lastly, we move on. Here we choose what we take with us into the new year (new season, new day, next moment). By this, I mean, “What do we choose to focus on?” “What do we let fall to the wayside?” and “How do we walk with those who are closest to us?” *

This can all seem quite overwhelming, but it reminds me of what Jesus told his disciples during his last evening with them.

“The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you.”
(John 14:26, CEB)

As they were edge of a new season, Jesus comforted them and reminded them that God, through the Holy Spirit, will help them move on into the new day before them and as the people they have become by spending the last three years with Jesus.

As we step into the new year of 2016, I pray that we have hearts to listen to the Holy Spirit as we seek to let go, remember, and move on into the new day that God has created for us to enjoy. And we can also sing with confidence the traditional song, Auld Lang Syne, knowing that remembering is a part of living life to the fullest for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.

Grace and peace,
Brook

  • In all reality, nothing is ever left behind. Everything we have experienced has brought us to who we are and where we are in life. It is our choice, though, what we do and how we live now, so that we become our best for ourselves, for God, and for those closest to us.

Taken by a Sunrise!

Three days per week I get to drive my daughter, Lydia, to Fremont High School. As the days shorten, the sun is usually rising as we drive. The sunrise is at our backs as we drive to school, but when I head over to my office, the sunrise is right in front of me. It is always a gorgeous way to come to work! Most mornings the sunrise is brilliant oranges and yellows. This morning I was treated to a show of blues, grays, and pastel oranges. The photo doesn’t do it justice. I saw colors I’m not sure I have ever noticed before, particularly a blue that was like a pale robin’s egg blue with hints of aqua. There was also a pale peach color, warm, soft, and reassuring. As you can tell, I was taken by the morning sky!

Taken by a Sunrise!

This sunrise reminded me of a passage I read earlier this week.

Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
(Psalms 104:1-3, NIV)

Whether we acknowledge it or not, God is amazing! God’s handiwork is magnificent! God provides it for our enjoyment, encouragement, and as a vehicle for our praise. I already touched on the enjoyment piece above. The aspect of encouragement comes from the fact that we can hold these images in our minds as memorials to God’s greatness, faithfulness, and love. Even though we can’t see a sunrise at will, we can remember and gain confidence that the same God that created this glorious sunrise lives within us and through the Holy Spirit reveals Christ to us. We just need to pause, remember, reflect, and allow God’s loving words to settle in our hearts. This is why the Psalmist reminds us to “Praise the Lord, my soul.” Praise opens our awareness to the beauty of God’s creation and the greatness of God’s love, setting us on course to receive the grace made available to us if we, again, pause, remember, and reflect.

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Lord’s Appearing

http://brookfonceca.vsco.co/media/560da23d4dfaf718a4ea9ba7I know it wasn’t much, but it rained in the SF Bay area this week! For me, rain is a significant image. It speaks to me of God’s presence and blessing. The thought of autumn rains got me thinking about some passages in the Old Testament, but all I could remember was the word “rains.” You know what it’s like. There’s a song that you heard a long time ago. You remember that you liked it. You even remember a few words of the chorus, but that’s about it. That’s how it was with me and rains this week. So I looked up “rains” in my Bible app. I found the passage I remembered. (I think!) This led me to other related passages, even one in the letter written by James.

Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises, he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
(Hosea 6:3, NIV)

This passage in Hosea speaks about God’s faithfulness, especially the faithfulness of God coming to us. We can trust that God will come when we call. There are times that we need God’s help, but are not aware that God is right here. The Lord’s appearing happens when we acknowledge the presence of God. The sun rises and sets. The seasonal rains come and go. It’s not much of a surprise for us, but then there are the moments when we appreciate a gorgeous sunset or stand out in the rain, just to soak up the refreshing environment. It just takes a moment to turn our hearts to the Lord, who is always here, and in that moment God appears!

Grace and peace,
Brook

Being Mercy

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
(Matthew 5:7, NIV)

sunrise through the treesQuite often it is the understated that houses the greatest treasure. As I was looking at this passage, my initial thought was that there wasn’t much going on with it. I basically said to myself, “Well, of course, the merciful will be shown mercy.” I just wasn’t getting it. I actually had to sit with it for a few days asking the question, “What was Jesus trying to teach us with this simple couplet.” The answer I found was much richer than I had anticipated.

It was like Jesus answered my question with a question. “How is it that the merciful are able to show mercy?” 

I realized that in order to give mercy we must be able to identify with the need of the one seeking mercy. In other words, it takes empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel with someone. Empathy, though, is a by product of a much larger practice of being present. To be present is simply to pay attention to the opportunities to love someone as you would love yourself.

Mercy can be defined as: the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness toward someone in need. We all know what it’s like to need mercy, to need a helping hand, to feel the need to be released from the weight of judgement. This can be a tricky thing. Sometimes we don’t know that we need mercy. We’re struggling so hard that we don’t realize that someone is holding out a hand to help us. Sometimes we feel the pressure of judgement, but don’t realize that it’s only in our head. Understanding this and practicing being present toward others will give us the capacity to extend mercy.

Mercy will look as different as the opportunities there are to extend it. This is where the guidance of the Holy Spirit comes in. Mercy may be lending a helping hand, listening and reflecting with a dear friend, or extending forgiveness to someone who has hurt you.

Now, what about the second half of the passage? I don’t think this is a “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” type of situation. True mercy has no obligations attached to it. So, where will the mercy come from? I think it comes from the fact that the merciful know when and how to seek mercy, because they have made giving mercy a part of their own life.

May we be present to others and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we will have a merciful heart, reflecting the heart of God for the world.

Grace and peace,
Brook