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Prayer from Dirty Bath Water

Praying from Dirty Bath WaterI watched them approach the shrine, bow, ring the bell, toss a coin, and clap. Somewhere in there, they made a request—a wish, really—for a good medical test result, getting into the right school, a worry about one of their children. I was struck by how much my Western mind and heart did not connect with how they offered their pleas. I understood the heart behind it—but not the actions.

But I wasn’t raised in Japanese culture.

My host family and I had many conversations about this around the dinner table. I wanted to understand at which point their “faith” held on, tangibly grabbed belief, and grew expectant. Twenty-four years and two degrees in Asian languages and culture later, and I’m still not sure. But I do know that it opened a door to rich conversations and some understanding between us, and I came to learn that rituals and gestures at the shrine were more about respect than faith. Ringing the bell was to get the attention of the god of that shrine.

Why is Jesus not found at a shrine?

Do we not have rituals we must perform, like money and hand gestures, to conjure His attention?

And, what on earth do you mean, ふいつげらるど-さん (Fitzgerald-san, or Miss Fitzgerald, my maiden name) about talking to God in your bath water?

Bath water? In Japan, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith

10 Strength Training Exercises of Faith“You’re getting stronger. I can see that about you. I can tell that you realize what isn’t in your control, and there is a peace about you.”

That was her assessment of me as I sat across from this professional who walked me through an emotionally difficult time.

Stronger? Really? You can see that?

See, the thing is: I feel stronger. I didn’t realize, however, that it was evident to anyone else.

But where does my strength come from?

Sure, the squats, lunges, and planks (one of my warrior princesses told me to add a “dead bug”) I do a few times a week are toning my physical body, but what about my spirit? How do I exercise that?

How did I build my spiritual muscles during a time when staying in bed, perseverating on what was out of my control, and escaping through other means were tempting alternatives?

Sometimes it was a minute-by-minute battle, but the choices were critical in determining if I ended up character-toned and feet planted more firmly in God’s amazing grace.

God’s Word offers me solutions and truth in every circumstance.

1. “Work out” according to His Word Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Removing Unwanted Layers

Removing Unwanted LayersIn light of the recent “National Dog Day,” I was reflecting on my newly shorn Shih Tzu Samson. Like his namesake in the Bible (Judges 13-16), he is strong and very hairy.

(If you’re not a dog fan, hang in there…I’m going somewhere with this—and as a sidenote, how can you not be a dog fan? Wink.)

My daughter and I spent an hour and a half one day out in a doggie-gated area of our backyard taking the clippers to our resident fuzzball. It was mother-daughter bonding time: many laughs over our mild-mannered but fed-up Samson. He was mostly patient as we practiced our haircutting skills, trimmed a little more beard here and there, gave him a manly tail shape, and assessed where we missed and he still looked a bit shaggy.

But under all that hair was a robust dog, strong and youthful, playful and now much cooler. Our home isn’t air-conditioned, so I could almost see Samson breathe a huge sigh of relief, pant a little less, and feel a bit more spry with the weight of his “wool” off. He looked like a lamb, fresh from the shearing.

Oh, Samson, Buddy! We forgot how unencumbered you are without the heavy weight of your hair! How free! How cool! How lovely!

I thought about myself and others carrying around burdens. Maybe you are too. I considered what we look like—even feel like—when we take a few layers off, when we start stripping off the layers of worry and care.

Granted, we cannot always do that. We all have responsibilities and commitments, right? We can’t simply “drop hair” like Samson and now run about footloose and fancy free in the yard.

Or can we? Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Waiting on God in the Valley

Ever feel like screaming:Waiting on God in the Valley

God, where ARE you? It’s the eleventh hour, and I’m beyond impatient waiting on you to show up!”

In a crisis situation, that desperate plea sounds pretty reasonable, right? We’re frantic, and we cry out. There’s nothing wrong with that. David did this repeatedly in the Psalms. God isn’t afraid of our honesty. In fact, He welcomes it.

Even so, there are four fundamental misconceptions with these statements, and believe me, I’m guilty of wrong belief myself!

  1. God is not with us.
  2. He might not respond, so we have to get His attention again.
  3. It really is the eleventh hour.
  4. It’s about us.

As for Number One, can I just say here that Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and Faith

Dragonflies, Lily Pads, Bullfrogs, and FaithLast weekend, I found myself drawing in heavy breaths from the weighty, humid Pennsylvania air, almost fighting against it with every inhale as the mugginess climbed my limbs and threatened to swallow me whole. We arrived at 80-something degrees and were leaving at 90-something. How did I ever live in the South Pacific for two years and bike 80 extra pounds in kids around in the trailer? When did I become so intolerant of the humidity?

These thoughts swirled around in my mind as I watched my 9 year old Little Man, the happiest he’s been in months, darting from one flagstone to another trying to find a bullfrog willing to reveal itself for a moment among the lily pads in the pond at my parents’ retirement community. It’s not for a lack of trying that he did not find an amphibian friend. We heard their throaty cries. I believe our cold-blooded friends didn’t want to raise half an eye above the cool water and shade of the lily pads to greet Little Man. And who could blame them in this heat?

As I let my eyes soak in the serenity of the calm pond water and marveled at the dragonflies dancing freely, living in the moment, I also envied the lily pads—anchored, yet fluid on the surface of the water. While I want to tango with dragonflies on my more adventurous days, as we wait out my father’s prognosis, I think I much prefer the safety of roots in the pond bottom, with only slight, gentle movements away from my anchor in small steps of trust: lily pad living at its finest!

The funny thing is: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Happy Thanksgiving from Espressos of Faith!

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Happy (U.S.) Thanksgiving!

I truly appreciate those of you who regularly follow “Espressos of Faith” as well as those of you who stop by to check it out! You have made this blog what it is, and I’m thankful for you.

I’m going to make this short, since we are hopefully all with loved ones and/or taking some good rest and food to restore ourselves. For those of you working, blessings on your day, and thank you for working a holiday for others who do not have to work it this year.

Today, I am thankful for family and friends, for healing and things still in the process of healing, for a published book (Not Just on Sundays), and for all those who made that possible (editors, artist, photographer, book marketer, printer, pastor, readers, and people who encouraged and prayed me through).

I’m grateful for lessons learned and for places where God is working out my character and peeling off areas of pride and replacing them with areas where I hopefully rely more on Him. I am thankful for His Holy Word, which brings the only true wisdom to me in managing marriage, raising children, getting through challenges, fighting things that come against us, seeing blessings even in the valleys we walk through, and healing relationships.

This has been an intense year for our family for many reasons, and I’m so thankful for lessons learned—sometimes painful—in the valley, where answers still were not on the horizon, and all we had was faith in things unseen. I’m grateful both for the people who walked through the valley with us as well as those currently in a valley of their own who allowed me in to hold their hands for a while.

Hebrews 11:1, Author unknown but he is recording the words of God, ESV 
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18, Apostle Paul speaking, ESV
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,
as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

We are thankful for the warm hand of Jesus in ours as each step we take—in work, our families, and our faith—is often uncertain, except for with Whom we are walking.

May you know the peace, rest, love, grace, mercy, and incredibly deep love of Christ this Thanksgiving and always!

Grateful for you,
Bonnie

[Did I mention I’m also thankful for chocolate-covered pretzels? And pie! 🙂 ]

 

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PUBLISHED! My Heart in 332 Pages.

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Today, “Espressos of Faith” celebrates the publication of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day (available now at amazon.com!) with a little reflection on how it feels to hold that book for the very first time.

Thank you for being on this incredible journey with me. Your readership has made me strive to use my voice in better ways. I surely hope I accomplish that most of the time, but I so appreciate your grace on the days I fall short.

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I hate the mail. I really do. And when my kids bring it into the house on the way in from the bus stop, I feel immediately anxious. Part of this comes from being conditioned to only receiving mail twice a week when we lived in the Marshall Islands. When we did get mail, it was essential mail only. No junk mail. But not here. In the U.S., two-thirds of the mail is advertisements, political campaigns, and credit card/insurance offers. I can’t stand that stuff coming into my house and claiming real estate on my countertops, which is what happens since someone else sets it down, and it might be days before I notice it. So, yeah, I have issues about my mail. Our postal worker must hate me because I personally only collect it twice a week. She gets very creative about how she stuffs my standard-size mailbox. It’s almost a game at this point.

But I was expecting my book proof for two days, so the mail was starting to seem a bit more exciting. And the mail usually comes at 12 PM. But, of course, this time it came at 3 PM. I must have gone down to the box about 10 times yesterday. I think I wore a path in the lawn. The mailbox even started just opening as I approached it, like a big yawn, because it was so happy I was finally taking an interest. Okay, that last part was a bit of an exaggeration. But it did spring open with a bit more enthusiasm than usual.

And then it came.

That box-wrapped-around-a-book thingie.

I had about two minutes alone with it before the kids piled off the afternoon late activity bus. I quickly went inside, ripped that thing open, and cradled it. Several decades of wanting to be a published book author, and several years of actually writing it later—

—and here it was.

There would be time for checking headers, footers, pagination, blank pages, and overall formatting and content in a few minutes. But at that moment, my book and I danced. I wept. My heart grew five sizes bigger inside my chest. It was real. It was here.

And it was mine.

But I didn’t just shed tears for joy. I shed tears for healing, for hope, for health, for heartaches, for all of the stories wrapped deeply into those pages. As I opened it to take a peek, I felt so many things want to leap out, ready to spill into other lives now. Things I had kept close to me. Things that were begging for release.

Ready or not, here I come.

I had prayed my words would be a comfort and a hope to others. That nothing in there would poke at anyone else’s hurt, but only serve to show the way to the light at the end of the path.

But it’s also me word-naked before the public now. Before friends, family, and complete strangers who otherwise didn’t know the ins and outs of my mind and life to that great extent.

I was standing in front of the book mirror with my pages open. And everyone could read me now.

That is exhilarating

and

terrifying

all wrapped up in one bow—or box, as the case may be.

And in my prayers as this book came to publication, I asked God to please let it be a message of hope, healing, encouragement, and faith, and that it would give people a glimpse of His amazing love for them. I asked that nobody would misunderstand or be hurt by anything written, and each time I read it through, I tried to read it from a different perspective, wanting to feel the hearts of those in my potential audience. I prayed that His words would go deep into the people who need to hear them. I prayed He would show me any places where I was not reflecting Him correctly, where I was too edgy, too snarky, too negative, and take them out—that He would only let me write and keep in what was edifying, to build up others. That can be a challenge when hitting topics that are sensitive, like abandonment or relational struggles. Those can be so hot-button that everyone thinks it is written about them (even if I don’t know them!). But, actually, it is. Because it’s written about all of us, myself included.

So, I hold my breath now, trembling a little at the thought of letting this long-term project go out into the world—no matter how limited the audience. I have held it for so long in my arms, and pushing “publish” set things in motion that now cannot be reversed. Me—real, raw, tender, vulnerable, and a little quirky—I’m out there. But beneath this tiny voice trying to get out is a bigger, more important one that I so desperately want people to hear: the voice of the Father’s amazing love and how it speaks so patiently, mercifully, and compassionately into my very imperfect life. How He speaks to all of us, if we’re listening.

As I read some of my own shared struggles as well as those of other writer/blogger/author friends of mine, I keep coming back to this: The written word is a tremendous responsibility.

  • It’s a responsibility not to lash out (there are ways to express frustration and pain without cutting anyone).
  • It’s a responsibility to be honest, even through fiction—not always that the situation we present is our own but that we know how to present a situation because we’ve done our research and listened deeply and attentively to those in that particular struggle.
  • It’s a responsibility to share our own lives, when appropriate, with integrity and in a way that is not dishonoring to anyone.
  • And it’s a responsibility to have hands outstretched in love, opening up our audience instead of excluding or polarizing people.

I pray I have done that in Not Just on Sundays and will continue to do so through the next few projects I hope to accomplish. It’s important to write well and to regularly receive feedback. It’s equally important to love and respect your audience and those in your story. Without that, our stories are in danger of becoming sour, distorted, and cynical.

Thank you, fellow writers/bloggers/authors, for inspiring me with the way you beautifully maintain that balance.

And thank you, readers, for your willingness to participate in the flawed-but-ever-growing journey.

I love that we have a God who is with us, who saves, who takes great delight in us, and who rejoices over us with singing. Wherever the journey takes me, I want to remain close to understanding that deep in my heart. I hope that you can too.

Zephaniah 3:17, Zephaniah the Prophet speaking

“The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

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Not Just on Sundays published today, October 1, 2014. It is currently available at amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

 

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