Who Are You?

JournalThe Christmas tree was still up and decorated—though slightly drooping in our dry Colorado air—when I cracked open my new journal on January first. (We follow the custom learned in Germany of celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, right up to Three Kings Day on January 6. I love these days for meditating about the first days of Jesus’ life: what was he like at a week old? did his hair curl like Mary’s? when did he begin sleeping through the night? did Joseph find work in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt?)

It’s rare that one of my brand new journals actually begins on the first day of the new year. More often two years (or more) of scattered words fill one book with several blank pages at the end. But this year the fresh, blank pages were waiting for what God would bring to mind, or what I would cry out in writing when I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—wail those thoughts aloud.

Before writing on that unmarked new page I printed out copies that have been pasted in the back of many recent journals. Information that I frequently turn to through the year: my Myers-Briggs Personality Profile (want to guess what/who I am??), my Strengths Finders analysis, and the results from Your Personality and Your Spiritual Life by Reginald Johnson. I am definitely not a “navel gazer” (one who engages in useless or excessive self-contemplation), but a deeper understanding of my personality—as God made me and as the Holy Spirit continues to refine me—has been of immeasurable help in my spiritual and emotional growth.

This understanding also helps me evaluate my work so that I don’t sink into a “slough of despond” (as described by Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress) when I see nothing productive happening, nor am I tempted to glorify self effort when success is at hand. Knowing myself with clearer vision also helps me see when circumstances, events—even people!—knock on the door of life ready to draw me away from God’s call for any particular day.

As I occasionally glance at these personality traits, I find myself offering honest gratitude to God for making me who I am. It’s so easy to fall into the trap—the Enemy’s trap, I’ve come to believe—of wanting to be something or someone else. “I wish I were like            .” From that point it’s only a small step into saying, “If I were like                       , I could do great things for God. But since I’m not, I’ll just stay here in my puddle.”

Lest you think I concentrate only on my strengths or the characteristics that are thought to be more positive (or more socially or—yes, even more spiritually) acceptable, I also glance at the weaknesses (from Strength Finders) or the infirmities (from Johnson’s analysis). This keeps me grounded, avoiding an inflated ego.

So what does all this have to do with becoming God’s Perennial Woman? Aren’t these practices, or isn’t this understanding, primarily beneficial for the young person just starting on the path of following Jesus? Remember the yardstick measurements many of us marked on a door jamb when our children were growing up? How many inches (or centimeters) did Johnny grow this year? The Apostle Peter, a pro when it came to beginning, falling, and beginning again, wrote what I call the yardstick of growth in his letter to Christians who we might say had every “right” to give up on growth as they were forced from their homeland and “persecuted from without and subverted from within.”* In the first chapter he repeatedly says, “add to.” Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t give up. “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”

No matter the age, physical condition, education, past experience, or sociological standing, God’s Perennial Woman is meant to keep growing, be effective and productive. Some might be discouraged because of decreasing energy (all of us??) or mental capacity, but we are responsible for those areas of life over which we have control.

Maybe it’s time to take inventory of who you are. Praise God for creating you in his image and look for ways each morning to make his light shine brightly (that’s what “glorify” means) through your strengths and your weaknesses. And remember: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

*Encyclopedia of the Bible


Starting LineI didn’t go to church yesterday. Before you gasp, gasp or tsk, tsk, let me explain. I firmly believe that meeting together weekly with my partners on this journey of faith is crucial to my spiritual health, my intellectual growth, and the mutual encouragement that flows between my brothers and sisters. But I also know that the sharing of germs is definitely not part of God’s plan for my life or theirs!

Fortunately our church “livestreams” the morning worship services so I was able to virtually pray, sing and worship in front of my computer. (Well, I didn’t do the singing part.) I particularly didn’t want to miss out on the first sermon of a current series with the simple theme, Start. I wasn’t disappointed. The premise of this series is that God asks us all to start something in our walk with him. The race isn’t over until life is over so no matter the age, we’re all, at all times, at some starting point. The text upon which the morning’s sermon was based was Mark 1:1: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah. That first “the” isn’t in the Greek text so it’s as though Mark explodes, Beginning! I’m about to tell you the greatest story ever told. Pay attention to how it was done then so you’ll know how to do it now! (The Marilyn Translation.)

I repeat: we’re all, at all times, at some starting point. Maybe not for some grand and glorious endeavor, but—at the minimum—for each day God gives us. Unfortunately for many, waking up to the new day doesn’t seem like the start of anything special. Get up (slowly!), attend to the body’s demands, assume that this day will be much like many or most of the past.

But is it possible that God may have undiscovered nuggets for us in the morning’s devotional reading? (Nuggets, of course, are only unearthed when what is read is pondered upon and that demands quiet, unhindered, uninterrupted thinking.) What or who comes to mind when the head is first bowed in silent prayer? Could this person or circumstance be where God is leading this day?

Many years ago I worked in Women’s Ministries at our church and in a meeting of leaders of small group Bible studies, I almost casually mentioned that I was looking for a woman to begin organizing a new program. A few minutes after returning to my office, Gwen* arrived at my desk. “Marilyn, I don’t think I’m the person to take that job but I’ll pray for the right woman.”

I was dumbfounded. Gwen was in her eighties and while healthy and involved in her small study, in no way did I entertain the thought that she would be the person I was looking for. I hope I was gracious in my response, thanking her for the offer and grateful for her years of ministry. “Oh, that’s OK, Marilyn. It’s just that whenever an opportunity for ministry is voiced, I ask God if it’s a place for me.”

Knowing the details of Gwen’s life, I knew this attitude of instant and willing availability didn’t emerge overnight. She had experienced many races where she was on the starting line. She and her husband worked with suburban teens before they were challenged to move to the inner city of a major metropolitan area. Gwen told me how she nearly stumbled spiritually when faced with the reality of raising five young children in that turbulent culture, but then finally decided this was exactly where God wanted her children nurtured. Other challenges followed, especially after their “retirement” when they moved to an African country to train youth workers. It was during that time, and in that place that another unexpected and difficult start occurred: Gwen’s husband died and she started on life as a widow.

And here she was in my office, willing to start again!

What kind of woman starts over and over again? What is in her “DNA”? What is her view of God? Her view of herself? Her view of her circumstances? Let’s discover this woman together…

*Not her real name.

What’s Next?

Perennials & PathFrom my journal early last summer: “God is nudging me to alter the focus of My Monday Moments…” Then August 4 on the blog: “This is just a note to encourage you to keep checking this post for a new title and focus! Can’t let you in on the secret just yet…”

Some of you–the faithful few!–have been checking. Others have given up. Although God continued to nudge, recovery was slow after busy, beautiful summer weeks, frustrating technical difficulties, plus the decision to downsize to a smaller condo. All my best laid plans were delayed. (When was the last time you cleaned out all the closet corners? Sorted through desk and kitchen drawers? Discarded or donated all those extra pillow cases, kitchen towels, ball point pens from Holiday Inn?!)

But now, after a frenzied few weeks, we’re settled and thoroughly enjoying these smaller digs. And definitely not missing those pillow cases or pens. It’s time to finally respond to God’s persistent nudges. My Monday Moments will remain the blog address but the title and purpose is changing to: God’s Perennial Woman: Exploring God’s Work and Will in Women. I was tempted to add …Women of a Certain Age, but decided that readership would take a tumble. (You can also “Google” God’s Perennial Woman: Exploring God’s Work and Will in Women to find the site.)

Why the change? As I work with and observe Christian women in what could be called the “third third of life,” several scenarios come into view. Some women, in varying conditions of health or life circumstances carry on or even increase the pursuit of personal spiritual growth, actively encourage younger Christians, and feed inquiring minds through challenging reading and discussion. Others seem stalled and/or satisfied, filling in the blanks in yet another Bible study, never missing a Sunday service, writing out that weekly tithe check, but most often have lost their I’m-following-Jesus enthusiasm.

However, a third category troubles me (these women probably aren’t reading My Monday Moments!), ones like the man described in a recent newspaper article who bemoaned, “I want the old Colorado back!” I hear these women say, “I want the old preaching/music/Sunday clothes/study/prayers/teenagers/missions/pews/Jesus(!?) back.” Or “I’ve done my part. Let someone else do the work.” Or “Rock babies in the nursery? No thanks!” Or “Invite my gay neighbors for coffee? Too uncomfortable.”

Perennial seems to be one of the new “in” words. I’d like to think it was original with me, but when I began searching on the internet for a new blog focus, I discovered I was at the back of the line. “Awakening the perennial feminine…Perennial women are your new market…You don’t have to be middle aged. You can be a perennial instead!” (I like that last one!)

Although for merchandising purposes, perennial women are largely defined as those in their 40s and 50s, from my vantage point and for purposes of this blog, perennial women are twenty or more years or older than that accepted definition. Careers, whether chosen or imposed, are over. Nests are empty. Some live alone after death or divorce of a mate. Addresses change as downsizing becomes attractive or necessary. Now what? Cruises beckon. Pinterest and Hobby Lobby promise diversion from loneliness.

But as Peggy Lee sang, “Is that all there is?”

If you’ve read this far, let me encourage you to tune in again some time soon. What’s happening in women who decide that this “third third” has more to offer? Does anyone (even God?) find value in us? What’s next for one who chooses to be a perennial woman of God?

Climbing El Capitans

El Capitan

“Solo Climber With No Ropes Tops El Capitan”

So reads the headline describing 31-year-old Alex Honnold’s recent ascent of Yosemite National Park’s massive granite El Capitan. He became the first to climb the daunting obstacle using only his hands and feet. No safety devices or other climbing gear.

The feat is amazing enough but what caught my attention was what preceded the three hour and fifty-six minute climb. While this was a life goal, it was not one undertaken without careful thought and preparation. He first wrote about the potential record-setting climb in his journal in 2009 but repeatedly found reasons to set it aside. In addition to thinking and dreaming about the feat the past two years, he climbed the wall several times with protective gear, “memorizing each hole he had to grab and the way he had to position his body until he felt comfortable enough to attempt the ‘free solo’ climb…even more challenging was overcoming the mental hurdle.”*

In twelve months (God willing!) I will join the ranks of those who check the 80-or-over box on the Sunday church “attendance roster.” The years from today on could be likened to climbing a mountain. What were mere hills in previous years are now El Capitans because of a body naturally aging. (In spite of healthy preventative measures.) While I seem to more often forget names, I’m grateful that God is granting me an active, inquisitive and (usually!) alert mind, one which I “exercise” with the climbing gear of crossword puzzles, in-depth conversations with friends who stimulate my thinking, reading that strains the brain as well as that which deeply satisfies the soul. And some which just provides amusement! Regular physical medical examinations indicate that I’m healthier than most “of my age.” (Don’t you love that phrase??)

Even those younger than I need encouragement for the climb, whether hills or mountains. Over recent months God has been nudging me to alter the focus of this My Monday Moments blog to address that encouragement, as well as other similar topics–some comforting and some perhaps not so!  Stay tuned to this site until you hear how you can log on to the (probable-but-not-yet-set-in-cement!) new title: Old and Growing.




*The Associated Press


Mother’s Day Faith

With her soft spring dress and beautiful blond hair, she could have been the “poster mother” on this Sunday Mother’s Day. They came in during the singing of the first song, she gently ushering a young man—probably in his thirties—ahead of her into the seats just in front of me. One glance confirmed that some would identify the young man as “different.” With somewhat vacant eyes, he sat or stood motionless as the service progressed, unresponsive to any stimuli.

One of the songs had the repeated phrase, He is good, God is good and I watched her quietly wipe tears first from one eye, then another as she sang. Soon she joined the congregation in singing the next song, the Chris Tomlin lyrics,

You’re a good, good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s whom I am, it’s who I am. 

Some might find the repetition tasteless but as this beautiful mature woman sang, she seemed to want the words to ring out forever. More tears, her right hand lightly resting on her unresponsive son’s shoulder and her left hand raised high in praise. It was obvious to any who looked carefully that she sang the familiar words with a full heart—perhaps a broken heart?—a heart joyfully choosing to believe that God is good.

A good, good Father? If this was a birth child, how many days or weeks or months went by before the diagnosis? What did she protect him from? How did she prepare him for the life ahead? Does she have other children? If not, was it upon this one child that her dreams were shaped differently than she ever imagined?

And through it all she chose to sing from her heart, You’re a good, good Father…and I’m—we’re—loved by you. A picture of Mother’s Day faith.

An Unlikely Meal

Table Before EnemiesWhen thunder rumbles in the distance and once-fluffy clouds turn menacing, the picnic table is cleared, hamburgers carried into the kitchen.

When the thud of bombs and the piercing whistle of gunfire nears the Middle East village, children whimper and people flee.

And yet this astounding word of unexplainable faith from a writer who knew the onslaught of both nature and enemy:

God, my shepherd…you serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies…
(Psalm 23:4 The Message)

How can this assurance be reality for the writer? For me? From his youth David had learned to trust the God of Israel. Early he expressed that trust through action: Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you… His relationship with the Father was so secure he felt the freedom to question: How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? He along with others heard God’s prescription for strength in the midst of storm: Be still, and know that I am God

Yes, our God is strong enough to serve us the delights of life even when the world around crumbles. Calvin Miller best describes these meals:

In this secluded place I meet a King.
He comes alone to drink reality
with me. Sometimes we talk sometimes we sit
and sip a life that passes by the crowd
as inwardness is born—a felted thing
of power—a commonality—
a union where unmended hopes are knit
where silence roars as quiet sings aloud.
Oh Christ, I love it here!
It is our place…*

*From The Table of Inwardness