A collection of columns by Lisa Jisa, Jennifer Zach, Steve Hammer,
Diane Meehl and Kerry C. Neuhardt.
A few weeks ago, I was having a really rough day. That's how
life goes sometimes. It shouldn't have thrown me for such a loop,
but it did. I dropped off my son at a class far out in the East
Valley that morning and decided to go for a hike in the
Superstition Mountains while I waited for him.
I've been doing some purging lately and it sure feels good to
get rid of stuff. Things can tend to drag us down. A friend once
told me how excited he was to get a new boat, only to be
discouraged at how much of his time it took beyond the few hours on
the river each Saturday that he had anticipated. There was
cleaning, routine maintenance and storing the boat. And more
purchases needed to be made, as the boat needed a trailer, life
A few weeks ago I attended a conference that was sponsored by
the Voice of the Martyrs. The guest speakers have been persecuted
for their faith. Among other atrocities, they have been beaten,
imprisoned, kidnapped and had their churches burned, all because of
following Jesus Christ.
I recently visited a friend who has ALS, also known as Lou
Gehrig's disease. It involves the degeneration of motor neurons,
leaving the brain unable to initiate and control voluntary muscle
movements. The last time I saw my friend, her right arm was not
working very well. Now just one year later, she is unable to walk
or chew. She is confined to a bed unless someone puts her into a
wheelchair, and a feeding tube provides the only route to
nourishment. She tries to speak, but with much difficulty. I thank
God that her left arm still works, because when I was totally
stumped trying to understand what she was telling me, she was able
to tap out a text message.
I was watching the Weather Channel with my youngest daughter a
few days ago. A clip came on about the devastating floods in
Pakistan, and the commentator remarked how upset so many people
were because they had lost all of their loved ones. Without missing
a beat, my daughter said, "No they haven't. God loves them. I want
to go over there and tell them that right now."
sit in my office to begin writing this month’s column, my eyes are
drawn to the closet door. On it are numerous heart-shaped sticky
notes on which I have written names. It is my “wall of
My husband has traveled for work for many of our 20 years of
marriage. I was feeling especially discouraged a few weeks ago and
was recalling how often I have had to function as a “single”
parent. And then my Voice of the Martyrs magazine came in
the mail. Some Christians around the world are mistreated, thrown
in jail, physically abused, and sometimes even killed simply
because they worship Jesus. They may go for years without seeing
their families. I read about wives whose husbands have been
imprisoned because of their faith. These women are left alone to
raise the children, work the fields, and try to make sure there is
enough food to scrape by each day.
I got new glasses last week. After wearing them all day every
day and then taking them off at night, things look a bit blurry in
one eye. I am amazed that I did not realize my need for new glasses
until I got them. And it takes a little bit of adjusting to get
used to wearing glasses. I have to remember to put them on!
For the first time I can remember, it is mid-February and our
Christmas tree is still up and full of ornaments. Stockings are
hanging over the fireplace, and baby Jesus is in the manger scene,
which rests quietly on a table. Everything looks exactly as it did
two months ago as we prepared to celebrate Jesus’ birth. It took so
much time to decorate everything and the twinkling lights are so
pretty that it seemed a shame to take it all down after only a few
A few years ago I took my kids camping near Lake Powell. The
trip ended up being one disaster after another.
Spiritual Side is a keeper
My brother lives in the mountains in Colorado and is in the
house construction business. It has been tight making ends meet and
feeding all of the mouths in his home because that industry has
nearly come to a grinding halt due to the economy.
I was hiking on South Mountain trails last week when I bumped
into a couple of men looking for directions. They were new to the
trail system and wanted to get to a higher trail, but were unsure
how to reach that point from where we stood.
My kids and I have been learning how the Bible is translated
into other languages. I am fascinated with the translation into a
language called Abau, spoken by nearly 5,000 people who reside
along a river in Papua New Guinea. There are not words in this
language to express the phrase “Jesus loves me,” so it is
translated as “I am in Jesus’ canoe.” What a special image that
must be for the native speakers of Abau.
As I sit here writing this month’s column, my mind keeps
wandering. There are so many things I have to get done today.
Laundry, driving kids to various places, making dinner for a bunch
of people coming over tonight, figuring out who will watch the dog
while we are gone on a trip next week, school work with the kids,
wondering when I will have time to finish answering questions for a
Bible study I am doing with a friend...
My youngest daughter and I had quite an experience at the
airport in Chicago a few weeks ago. We loaded all of our things
into tubs to go through security and then sat down to put ourselves
back together again. We put on and tied our boots, strapped the
laptop back in its bag, collected our winter coats (it was 30 below
zero that day), grabbed Stella's booster seat, pulled up the handle
for her carry-on and tried to stay out of everyone else's way all
at the same time. We walked a little ways to a restaurant and
ordered some food. As we were approaching the cash register, I
realized that my purse was nowhere in sight. In a moment of panic,
I decided that I must have left it in a tub on the conveyor belt.
We raced back and asked the guard, who appeared to be in charge, if
he had my purse. He directed us to "the booth." Immediately a man
approached and told me that I had left my purse under a seat in the
security area. Gulp. I made some half-hearted joke that "at least I
I had an exciting day last week. Well, maybe exciting is too
strong of a word. I was able to spend an entire afternoon
thoroughly cleaning out a closet in our laundry room. That may not
sound like a big deal to you, but speaking as a reformed packrat,
it was major! Perhaps it is the teacher in me that often thinks we
might find a use for something one day. Yet it felt so good to get
rid of stuff that I have been hanging onto indefinitely. I happened
to be the only one at home so, fortunately, there was no one around
to trash-pick things I had tossed or convince me we had to keep
something around for just a little longer. I get such a sense of
accomplishment when cleaning out a closet. What a great time to
purge the clutter, dust the shelves and take stock of what is
there. I discovered all kinds of things hiding on the shelves. Some
things were fun to find, like old family photos and craft projects
the kids have made over the years. OK, I admit it; I needed an
entire afternoon …
In March I wrote about my friend Kathy and her lifelong battles
with cancer. I am thrilled to tell you that she has been completely
healed by the Lord! I was praying with her and she suddenly felt an
intense heat beneath my hand. Unknown to me at the time, I had
placed my hand directly upon a spot in her brain, where there was a
brain tumor. Because the part of the brain that controls the heart
and lung function was affected by this tumor, Kathy has had to get
fluid drained from her lungs every 10 to 12 days for the past six
years so she can breathe without difficulty. However, since that
moment, all the symptoms she has had for the past six years are
completely gone and she has not needed to have fluid drained from
her lungs since that incredible day more than eight weeks ago.
Praise God! He is mighty and awesome and still in the business of
healing and miracles! Thinking about this led me to ponder the Holy
Spirit and the power God uses to accomplish His purposes here on
I spent last night with a friend who had just received a heavy dose of radiation for a cancerous tumor on the remaining portion of her one good kidney. The waves of pain came over her like a pregnant woman deep in labor; only there was no happy delivery of a baby to come with this pain. I want to share her courageous and inspiring lifetime journey of faith with you. Kathy has never once blamed God for any of her health issues. She has known and believed from a young age that God is good no matter what and that it is the enemy who comes to destroy life. In the words of Jesus from John 10:10: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Kathy grew up in a town that had a power plant and along with it the highest incidence of cancer in children under age 12 in the US. Everyone in Zion knew someone who had cancer so she was not afraid when diagnosed with leukemia at age 8. At age 9 she received a bone marrow tra…
"I can't wait until Christmas!" exclaims my 8 year old several
times a day. Then he does a little dance, electric anticipation
popping and fizzing about him.
It all started with a bite in the butt.
I don't care who you are, nobody has the right to disrupt a
funeral and hit a family while they are grieving.
Imagine opening a brand new tube of toothpaste. It feels heavy,
round and smooth in your hands. Unscrew the top and start squeezing
- but not onto your toothbrush. Squeeze the whole tube out into
your other hand. Look at your hand full of squishy minty goo. This
was not a good idea, you think.
“Stick your hand in it, mom! Go for it!” my son says. He looks
at me with a challenging grin.
Julie & Julia. Julie, almost 30, a desk jockey who
fields complaints in a call center, is sitting in a New York City
restaurant lost among her very successful and self-important
friends. Her sense of failure and self-loathing overwhelms. Scene
changes to a cramped apartment in Queens where Julie is cooking and
complaining about her friend Annabelle’s success as a blogger. “I
could write a blog,” she says. “I have thoughts.”
"Unos, dos, tres,
catorce!" Bono counted us in (some, 2, 3 - 14?) and then The Edge
“I know why spring is called spring,” my first-grader announced
importantly as he climbed up into bed. “It’s because when the snow
melts, everything springs up, out of the ground.” He bounced up
vigorously, his arms above his head, to demonstrate.
The snow was flying and the roads were getting icier by the
minute. We were driving down to Phoenix from Pinetop and a
snowstorm had blown in as we approached our descent from the
Many, many Christmases ago, my grandmother brought us one of
those magical advent calendars with chocolate behind a little door
for each day in December leading up to Christmas. But she brought
I’ve just come downstairs to look for my brain. Apparently I
lost it and everything that was in it. It happened to my husband,
too. We woke up one day and discovered we no longer knew anything.
Math, science, relationships, how to drive, even how to dress
ourselves – you name it, we don’t know it. Thankfully, we are the
parents of two middle school geniuses who can help us out.
Last week William Rice stopped to see what was going on at a
health care reform protest organized by MoveOn.org, a group in
favor of health care reform and the “public option” of government
Let me tell you a funny story. Lately I have been thinking a lot about strength and being strong. With a milestone birthday not too far in the future I've been making a greater effort to improve my health through diet and exercise. Reconciling myself to the reality that "skinny" is not an achievable goal I really just want to be strong.
Once upon a time I found the perfect Valentine. It was unusually large and square and felt substantial in your hands. The cover was a collage of art and script on a midnight backdrop. I like uncomplicated cards and inside this one it simply said, "I love you." Perfect. Only later did I discover tucked quietly in the collage a profound little fragment of verse by W.B. Yeats. It spoke my heart for my husband and for our marriage. Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. Romantic sentiment, however, was not a strong part of my husband's vocabulary at the time. A short time earlier in our marriage he had earnestly declared, "I choose to love you." I was crushed. I did not want him to "choose" to love…
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Brooke Bailey Lindsay Baille Montriece Yvonne Baker Seleania
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Michelle Christine Carver Jisoo Chae Erika Lynn Chamberlain Julia
Nina Cheng Jessica Chocianowski Maria Jeannette Christensen Demi
A while ago, my kids and I were rocking out in the car to
Vertigo by U2. We had the windows down and the volume obnoxiously
loud. I was one cool mama chick, cruising Ahwatukee with my cool
baby-chicks in my way cool minivan. Basking in this most excellent
coolness I turned to the kids. "You know guys, I listened to U2
when I was in high school." Their jaws dropped open and their eyes
nearly bugged out of their heads in disbelief. "And U2 is still
alive?!" Ouch. I'm not cool. Apparently I'm ancient. That's bad
news for Bono. Anyone who owned Joshua Tree on cassette can
understand - wasn't it just yesterday? My daughter asks me
questions about "back then," meaning when cars were new and
television had yet to be invented. She expects me to answer from
personal experience. I feel like I was just 19 but my daughter
thinks I can tell her about what life was like without electricity
and running water. Kids have a way of humbling you. Repeatedly in
the Bible we are encouraged to be hum…
Last week, leading up to Easter, I was struggling. All my inadequacies as a mom and homemaker were being highlighted for all to see. My inbox mocked me with pictures of perfectly presented, encrusted racks of lamb, and beautifully set Easter dinner tables. Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma chided me for not purchasing new dishes and redecorating my living room in springy pastels. Magazine covers displaying picturesque painted eggs pointed out that I had neglected my children's well-being by not teaching them how to make mini-Faberges. Even the Target dollar section whispered to me that I, too, could have the perfect Easter morning egg hunt. Martha smiled serenely from my television, demonstrating the perfect Easter Brunch. My friends and neighbors with the Martha gene hung out banners and little eggs from their trees. I have a banner too, I just didn't know where it was. Perfect Martha moms at pre-school put on a beautiful Easter party for the kids. One of them kindly sent me ho…
In a penultimate scene in Kevin Costner's underrated 2003
western, "Open Range," there is a lull in the shooting between the
cattle baron with his henchmen and the free-range cowboys with the
townspeople. With a 17-year-old boy in between them, bleeding from
a previously inflicted wound, Annette Bening's character goes into
the middle of the street shouting, "Stop it. Stop it right now." It
is an act of extraordinary courage given that the bullets have been
flying with deadly accuracy, and one that contains a very certain
element of self-sacrifice.
By profession, my brother-in-law in Saskatchewan is a farmer.
His passion, however, is Buck and Charlie, a pair of Belgian
draught horses that he frequently exhibits at fairs and farming
demonstrations. Individually, Buck and Charlie can pull a load of
about a ton. As a team, however, they are able to pull five! It is
an example of the principle of non-summativity: together they are
more than the sum of their parts. It is a lesson we perpetually
need to relearn.
Last month, a pastor in Florida made international headlines by
announcing his plans to burn copies of the Qur'an. That he relented
in the 11th hour was good news, but the entire incident raised a
persistent and thorny question. Is it possible for me to be
faithful to my own religious tradition while at the same time
honoring the legitimacy of another? The question is so thorny that
there has been a rise in those calling for an end to all
Having a personal relationship with God
Jesus had a way of sneaking up on his pupils.
Good teachers are like that. While spinning stories on the nature
of the Kingdom of Heaven, the topic gets serious. The king will
separate them, and bless those that welcomed and fed him, but curse
those who failed to respond.
Ever since human beings began to form themselves into
communities, the relationship between government and religion has
been, well, dicey. On one extreme there is theocracy; governments
functioning under religious principles and laws. On the other
extreme there is complete separation of church and state. Most of
us live somewhere in between.
“He is risen. He is risen indeed!”
It seems like Harvey Cox has been around forever. Now in his
81st year he is still going strong even though he is “officially
retired” from his teaching post at Harvard Divinity School. It was
in 1965 that his first major book, The Secular City,
established Cox as one of the most important and fascinating voices
If you listen, sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected
It is hard to imagine that it was just 10 years ago that there
was a great deal of fuss and bother over “Y2K.” Computer systems
were going to fail, all the ATM’s were going to crash and the
entire world’s technology infrastructure was in peril. You may not
remember it because none of it happened.
Last month our congregation hosted a food-packing event for Feed
My Starving Children. Along with congregations in Peoria,
Scottsdale and Mesa, Ahwatukee Foothills residents packed over a
million meals for hungry children in over 60 countries. It is a
classic win-win. The result was terrific, but the process may have
been every bit as important. In a time when people of faith are
beating each other up, feeding hungry children seems to be common
ground. Not just for people of faith and differing faiths, but
people of no faith at all. We had church and civic groups, employee
and school groups, children and adults – over 5000 volunteers
brought together from many different places to become neighbors to
each other and to children they will never meet.
Nearly 500 years ago, priest and professor of theology Martin
Luther nailed a list of issues for debate to the door of the
church. There was nothing too unusual about it – the door of the
church was a community bulletin board and in a university
community, debate was a form of public entertainment. But of
course, that is not how the story ends. Luther’s 95 Theses touched
off perhaps the most significant event of the second millennium.
Until that time, there had been only one split in Christendom – the
division of the Eastern and Western confessions in 1054. In the 500
years since, over 20,000 Protestant denominations have been formed
and many, mine included, are enduring internal strife.
My brother lives on a lake in the Midwest. In the summer it’s
pretty easy to see what the neighbors are doing just by looking
down the shoreline and it is not uncommon for several neighbors to
gather where one has fired up the barbecue and, before you know it,
there is what we city dwellers would call a block party. So when he
visited here for the first time, he particularly noticed that we
all tend to live behind our own individual cinder block walls.
As it most often is with such moments of shocking tragedy, the
shootings at Virginia Tech last month leave us with far more
questions than answers. And yet, in the aftermath of human calamity
we seem to hunger for something that will make sense of it all.
Where do we turn? Will answers lie in law enforcement, public
policy and political process, the mental health system, or perhaps
in faith communities? Answers that come too quickly are revealed,
after the first blush, to border on the ludicrous. (If more
students had been carrying concealed weapons, one of them might
have taken down the shooter? Pardon me if I fail to grasp the logic
in placing more guns into a population of late adolescents swimming
in undifferentiated ego mass where one of the persistent problems
is easy access to large quantities of alcohol). On one level, the
shooting was about power. A young man with a tormented mind, sensed
that he had been stripped of power; made powerless by those around
him, and he so…
Like many of you, I have had more than the usual amount of yard work this spring. The hard freeze this winter took a serious toll on my yard, and there has been a lot of cutting back. I had a few plants and a couple of palm trees that I thought were goners, but as the days have grown longer and the nights warmer, there are new buds and bits of green; signs of life to remind me that death does not get the last word. At its heart, that is the Easter message. Death does not get the last word. What St. Paul called the powers and principalities threw everything they had at Jesus, but death did not get the last word. He challenged the powers - religious and civil - insisted that justice and love takes priority over law and tradition. The powers saw it as a threat; perceived him to be a confused mystic at best, or a crazed anarchist. Even the common folk were spooked when he refused to back down in the face of threats. They crowded in to see him, maybe get something from him, but he s…
Like you, I'm spending some serious time at Target these days.
It is one of my favorite stores; and we never seem to get through a
trip without bumping into friends. But I don't expect to run into
According to parental folklore, as a kid, I ate like a bird. You
would never know it now. Ever since my own "babies" arrived on the
scene, I've eaten like a trucker just home from the road. Perhaps
this is because I burn a lot of calories keeping up with my lively
brood; or maybe food helps me cope with the rigors of family life.
Maybe I just really love food. Look, I married a guy who can really
hold his own in the kitchen, and it would be an insult not to fully
enjoy his labors!
Let me set the record straight: I've got a temper. I've been
known to hurl curse words and even - gulp - a book now and then.
And I would be mortified if someone filmed me ushering three kids
out of the door many mornings. The name of my reality show would
have to be Brownie Troop Leaders on the Edge!
I was never a cheerleader in high school. But today, I love to
encourage people. My highest calling is to comfort and minister to
the people God places in my path. But this week, that road was a
crowded one. The numbered tragedy to which I stood witness included
sudden death, divorce, chronic illness, job loss and abuse. I
admit; I was overwhelmed ... turns out I needed some
An unexpected miracle arrived in my mailbox one day, exactly
when I needed one. A thick envelope with no return address, it was
chock full of decorative stickers for my scrapbooks - back when I
had some hope of keeping them updated - with an encouraging note
tucked in. Its very presence lifted my sagging spirit. I remember
sitting on the floor, sifting through the bounty, searching for
clues. The sender didn't leave a signature, and I was eager to
discover their secret identity.
I don't blame Eve. After all, she was likely just a curious
adolescent ... probably needed a bit of excitement amidst her
tranquil, predictable existence. Our Creator's first daughter has
shouldered the brunt of the shame for our fall from, or perhaps
into, humanity. But, her act of rebellion taught us a salient truth
about ourselves - whether your interpretation of the account in
Genesis 3 is allegorical or literal. We disobey. We submit to
temptation. We commit treasons big and small, always have. But
then, what about Adam's response?
She bounded out of the truck, covered in dirt
and bursting at the seams. Arriving home from a camping trip with
the Meehl men – her daddy, uncle, brother and cousins – my
8-year-old daughter couldn’t wait one more minute to tell me about
came across a splashy ad recently for a new diet promising to make
me “high school skinny” again. Really? Would I want to go back to
being high school naive? Or high school insecure? No thanks. I
think I’ve earned my squishy tummy that was home to three
blessings, but thanks anyway.
It’s hard to describe, isn’t it? It is …a bittersweet heartache.
It is watching your hopes and dreams walk. It is peering into the
future. It is reconciling with the past. It is messy; it is
chaotic. It is self-doubt and raw vulnerability. But it is also
joy. It is the courage of a lion, the tenacity of a
bloodhound, and the gentleness of a sparrow. It is motherhood.
I agree with Alice Cooper. He claimed embracing Christianity was
the real rebellion of his life. So in that spirit, I did something
a bit different this year to recognize the season of Lent. I took a
Ah, another football season’s come to an end. Not that I’m
exactly an avid fan, but I live with a couple of diehards. And if I
want to hang out with them during the fall season, I’ve learned to
quit multitasking and hit the couch Sunday afternoons.
My mom approached looking agitated, crying. The rented sprayer
was too loud to hear her and my dad and I were preoccupied with
getting coating applied to the roof. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Jacob’s dead,” she replied, breaking into tears again. Jacob is my
nephew, aged 24. He died of a pulmonary thrombosis March 11, 2010.
Heart attacks are not age specific. Like a thief in the night, one
took his life.
As increasing numbers of people desperately call or stop by
churches, religious and social institutions looking for help, as we
struggle to cope with the widening gap between people’s needs and
our capacity to fill them, perhaps these prayers will be a vestige
of compassion and comfort.