Tag Archives: presence

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

Be Born in Us Today

Impressionist painting of the Nativity

While they were in Bethlehem, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.  Luke 2:6-7, CEB

Just as Mary and Joseph cared for Jesus in his humble birthplace, may we too care for Jesus by caring for those closest to us. I pray as well that our reflections on the Nativity story will open our hearts, and our guestrooms, for Jesus to be borne into our daily life experiences.

This reminds me of the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

Merry Christmas!

Grace and peace,
Brook

The Long Road to Christmas

Advent Greetings!
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized that the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, was written about the days of celebration following Christmas, and not Advent, the days leading up to Christmas. This means that the entire Christmas observance could last about six and a half weeks. That’s a long time!

The length of the season seems fitting since the Christmas story contains many journeys and periods of waiting. If we consider Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth, they traveled just over 100 miles.

The Long Journey to Bethlehem, Luke 2:1-7

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Luke 2:1-7, CEB

The beauty of the Christmas story is that it’s rooted in the reality of human experience. We can look at the journey Joseph and Mary took and find some parallel in our personal lives. For me, I have been on a long journey with depression. God has helped me to experience the high places and met me in the lowest valleys. Even though I deal with depression daily, the Lord has filled my heart with hope that one day I will walk truly free. The key for me is keeping my heart open, along with my hands and mind, to see Jesus, the promised deliverer, present in my situation through people and practice, family and faithfulness, community and commitment.

The encouragement I have received from the Christmas story and want to share with you is that God is no stranger to our humanity and is not adverse to meeting us where we are right now. Emmanuel, God with us. This is God’s gift to me this Christmas. I pray it is yours as well.

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

A God with Dirty Knees

In preparation for and ever since our worship gathering last Sunday at Valley Life Church, I have not been able to stop thinking about the first line of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This passage has never really meant much to me besides a sappy, “Christianese” sentiment, but this week it came alive to me.

'Shepherd and Sheep' by Anton Mauve

‘Shepherd and Sheep’ by Anton Mauve

To start out with, this is a Psalm of David, who was raised to be a shepherd. Those in his family that cared for him were shepherds. To him a shepherd was one that cares for others, human and animal, with a sense of deep commitment and personal investment. A shepherd uses more that his staff. He uses his hands, knees, back, and head (his smarts) to make sure that the ones under his charge we well cared for and protected.

In the ancient world, a shepherd was looked down upon as an unfortunate profession. It was a necessary role, but not a sought after career path. In fact, shepherds were not able to worship God where everyone else gathered, because they were deemed unclean. It is interesting, though, that the major spiritual leaders in the Bible were shepherds. It is likewise noteworthy that God is revealed to God’s people as a shepherd, their shepherd.

What this speaks to me is that if the Lord is our shepherd, then our God has dirty knees. God is not put out with the fact that we need help, real help, the kind of help that gets messy. The Lord is not only willing, but already knee deep in it with us. What more could you ask for? The God of the universe caring and dwelling with us, wherever we find ourselves, and with the strength and love to help and save us.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. (John 10:11)  He fulfilled in the flesh the promise received in Psalm 23, and continues to do so until the end of the age. “I heard a loud voice from the throne say, ‘Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.'” (Revelation 21:3-4, CEB)

So, when I remember that the Lord is my shepherd, it’s no longer a sentimental trope. It is an affirmation of the life surrendering and life giving love of God through Jesus Christ. I am confident that my God has dirty knees and that my God loves me. I am confident of the same for you.

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

Smile

Lillian smiling while riding a bikeThe smile of a child and the laughter of children as they play make the world go around day after day.

“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”
Matthew 21:16, NIV

Originally posted at vsco.co/brookfonceca

Joining the Procession of Peace

I think the Triumphal Entry is one of my favorite events in the gospel narrative. There is so much going on, so many layers, and so much drama. But, as I was reading it this week, I saw a simple principle nestled in among all the layers. Praise is a pathway to peace.

sunrise through the treesWhen they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Mark 11:7-10, NIV

Regardless of the political environment and expectation surrounding this event, the people acknowledged Jesus as their Messiah, their deliverer, and the one through whom they would experience God’s peace. This caused them to erupt into spontaneous praise.

Praise reveals what our hearts hold true. That sense of fulfillment, even completeness, that fills us as we praise might be the most appropriate definition of God’s shalom (peace). Shalom is wholeness and contentment in God’s presence and providence.

The crowd in this story quickly let their expectation of a warring Messiah rob them of the peace they had tasted when they worshiped Jesus as the Prince of Peace. Even when God betrays our expectations, let’s remember Paul’s encouragement.

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.
Romans 8:28, NIV

Grace and peace,
Brook

A Prayer for a Wedding Dinner

I had the privilege of offering a prayer at my friends’ wedding last night. As I was saying a few words of introduction prior to the prayer, I quipped to the wedding couple, Michael and Stacey, that it’s difficult for me to do anything without making a theological statement. Below is the prayer I offered.

plates of food

Deliciousness! Courtesty of Chef Cesar Alvarado.

Lift up your heads. Unfold your hands. And, look around at the wonderful people you are sharing this moment with, especially Michael and Stacey.

God, we thank you for this beautiful day and this beautiful new family, Mike and Stacey Reed.

We also thank you for this meal that is set before us, and the honor to share in it with Mike and Stacey, since it is their first meal together as husband and wife. 

God, you established the sharing of a meal as more than just replenishing our bodies with the necessary nutrition for the next few hours.

And we thank you that when we sit down to eat together, we are not only sharing food with one another, but a bit or ourselves as well.

This is why eating together is enjoyable and something to be cherished. 

God, you gave us Jesus as an example for our lives, even how to share a meal.

We see that during his life time, Jesus showed us the importance of sharing a meal together. At the wedding feast in Cana, he allowed himself to be revealed as more than just a tradesman, but as your son, bearing your glory as he provided better wine, which was only moments before, water in stone vessels. That must have been a great party!

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he chose to eat with those whom he cared for, whether they be a high ranking religious leader or a street level outcast, that in his day would have been called “unclean.” By eating with them, he declared their dignity as your sons and daughters by cherishing them as individuals and enjoying the moments they shared together.

Lastly, when Jesus was preparing himself to go to the cross, he shared a last meal with his disciples. This last supper revealed your love for us with the bread being a symbol of Christ’s broken body and the wine as his shed blood, both for our healing and restoration and a reminder of your enduing covenant to be integrally involved with us in every aspect of our lives. For you, God, are most often found where you are least expected, even down to the simple and routine moments of life. 

God, we know that when we sit down together to share a meal, we can trust that a few things can happen. We can learn a bit about one another as we allow ourselves to be known. We can experience a sense of the divine when we honor the dignity of the ones we’re with as your children. Lastly, we can be nourished in body, soul, and spirit as we take the time to allow this meal to be all that you intended it to be for us.

Now, as our stomachs are grumbling in anticipation for this wonderful meal prepared by Chef Cesar Alvarado, we again give you thanks for Mike and Stacey, their marriage, and this honor to enjoy with them their first meal as a husband and wife.

We pray this in the name of your son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Valentine’s Day, Everyday

rose petal heartHappy Valentine’s Day! Here is a little free-verse for you.

Whatever the origins of this holiday are
and no matter what culture and society
have done to monetize it,
this holiday celebrates
the love we have for one another,
which can quite rightly include
God’s love for us,
and ours for God.

May we be known as a people
who love God best
by loving others well,
and that everyday for us
would be Valentine’s Day.

Grace and peace,
Brook