Category: faith

My Scratchy Relationship with Thanksgiving

I have had an odd relationship with the idea of thankfulness. My earliest memories of being thankful came wrapped up in the torturous duty of writing thank-you notes. I know my young mother was trying to instill within me a sense of being thankful. But the task was always tinged with duty and properness. I recall sharply her edits of my thank-you notes, “Write it again.”

Full of childhood spelling and grammatical errors, her rebuke told me that my attempts to express my gratitude were — not enough. I may have only been 9 years of age. The message came through though, my thankfulness wasn’t enough, unless it was perfectly and properly expressed.

My parents caught the tail end of WW2. I scarcely remember ever going without food, I grew up in a nice home, with more than I ever needed. But this was not my parents’ experience. My mother was from a large family with a single mom growing up in east Los Angeles. My father was the only boy in a family of rice farmers in west Louisiana, hard working poor people. They both struggled with hunger and lived a life of general lack.

My childhood was overflowing with the things they never had. And they were going to make sure I knew how blessed I was. Especially at dinner time. The meal was not complete without the command to EAT everything on my plate.

“You should be thankful! There are starving children in Africa!” Along with this was the shameful admonition, “Be thankful you’re not one of them.” It was difficult to reconcile the idea that I should be thankful my life wasn’t as miserable as those “starving children.” So, thankfulness became more about guilt and lip service to parents who lived an experience I knew nothing about.

I was in my early 20s when I participated in a project to provide school supplies to low-income families. It was raining hard the day I delivered a backpack full of new school supplies to a single mother in a town only about 12 miles from my comfortable home. The place was on a small dark street with little parking. I struggled through the dirty rainwater and finally found the home, a tiny back house. When the woman opened the door, I was shocked at the condition of the building. I could see the rain water draining from the larger property under the door’s threshold. I say “threshold,” but there wasn’t much left of it, all broken away with rotting wood. The children standing behind her were full of joy at receiving new things for school. I was overwhelmed and left feeling so selfish that I had complained about my new shoes getting wet in the rain.

There it was again. Thanksgiving enmeshed in the shame of having more and not being one of “them.” Unable to reconcile, I ignored the contradiction. Never taking the time to sort through what it meant or how I should deal with it. Funny how you can avoid reconciling inner contractions until you can’t …

About 10 years ago one of my children was traumatically injured in a terrible car accident. She should have died. She didn’t. As she struggled to recover from a multitude of brain injuries and physical limitations, the “encouragement” came in from well-meaning friends. “Oh, be thankful she’s alive.”

Yes, I know, I was thankful she was alive, but my feelings of thankfulness could never replace the confusion, doubt, and pure grief I was experiencing. As if thankfulness were some kind of magic salve to make suffering vanish. Does one necessarily replace the other? Can’t they exist together? Both components in negotiating the messiness of life? Can we experience gratitude and sadness at the same time? I was thankful she was alive, but at what cost? And how did being thankful make things better? I sat by her bedside day after day trying to reconcile this paradox.

I asked God to help me. I wanted desperately to be thankful that she was alive, but I was also faced with the devastation of her diminished life. As I prayed, I felt directed to look at Scripture and discover what wisdom I could find there.

Down a rabbit-hole I went, which happens often. First, I stumbled upon all the expected definitions of thanksgiving. Acknowledging what has been done for you or given to you. Then the concept of a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Something that is offered at the conclusion of a great battle. Thanking God for a victory. I was still waiting for my victory. Yet, this idea was connected to the phrase a “sacrifice of peace.”
A sacrifice of peace. That is what I needed: PEACE. In Hebrew the word for this type of sacrifice is Shelem. That is so close to the ancient greeting of peace, Shalom. I believe they have the same root.

Shelem, noun;
     1. Peace offering requital, sacrifice for alliance or friendship.
     2. Voluntary sacrifice of thanks.

That was it! VOLUNTARY. A voluntary offering of thanks. This offering was nothing required or demanded. Nothing you “should” do, but something offered voluntarily.

This sharpened my understanding of what my mother was trying to do. She was trying to instill within me an idea of thankfulness yet the motivation was all wrong. She aimed at the ACT of thankfulness not the SOURCE of thankfulness. Thankfulness is a response. The interior attitude is the goal. And I’m convinced that it must be within the context of a lived experience. That day in the hospital, my friends offered what encouragement they could. Yet they were not living my experience. How could they understand the devastation that faced me? I quietly began thanking God for saving her life, yet I never stopped pleading with him for a full recovery. I was beginning to understand how these two aspects of honesty could co-exist.

This Thanksgiving I am taking a fresh look at my life, my blessings, and my struggles. Now my offering of thanks as a response for what God has done for me. It no longer is a duty. I focus on the beauty of remembering who I am, where I’ve been, and the multitude of struggles I’ve lived through. It isn’t about the “quality” of my thanks, that they’re offered with well thought out, perfectly spelled words, or even proper grammar. I am free to offer thanks enmeshed in my frustrations and doubts. And these expressions are enough. It is living in the truth that God has been faithful to give me whatever I have needed. Not always what I’ve wanted, but what I needed. Gratitude is something I can experience and express even if weighed down with confusion or sadness. Yes, God saved her life. I’m eternally grateful for that, yet I will live the rest of my life in the tension of this blessing and the multitude of issues she’ll face her whole life. Thanksgiving isn’t something I offer to simply set my mind at rest, no, gratitude is something that can and should exist no matter the situation. It is an interior attitude that steps back from whatever is at hand and says, voluntarily, “God, I thank you for all you’ve done.”

Summer Gatherings … to Listen

So, something you may or may not know about me, God speaks to me. Weird … I know.

Many people think God stopped speaking in Bible times, but He didn’t. Sometimes His voice is audible, sometimes His voice is a thought in my mind. He speaks to me through the Scriptures, the words of others, and through the physical world around me.

Occasionally, the conversation takes place out of the blue, but most of the time He speaks when I am seeking Him. If you’re curious about our conversations, I’ve written a bit about them here.

Sometimes I’ve wondered, who am I that God would talk to me? Yet, His communication confirms His love for me. I wasn’t designed to independently, go it on my own. I was designed to be in regular conversations with Him.

God speaks to me because I seek Him. And the seeking is an active thing, as the word implies. There is no real secret to hearing God’s voice, and there are tools to help.

In my own Spiritual life, I have practiced visio divina (sacred seeing), and lectio divina (sacred reading) too. Click either link to read about my experience.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about these practices, so this summer I’m gathering a group to practice listening to God. We’ll meet in north Orange County on Thursdays from 7 – 9pm.

If you are in the area, and you’d like to join us email me and I’ll send you the address. If you aren’t in the area, but you are still interested, email me and I’ll share my resources with you. You can gather your own group!

I cannot encourage you strongly enough to give this a try … God loves spending time with you; there are things He’d like to say. He is just waiting for you to be quiet. These summer gatherings are the perfect opportunity to get the conversation started.

Check my Facebook  Events page for more information.

Threadbare Words – LOVE

My earliest memory of the word LOVE, is listening to my mother sing along with singer/song writer, Jackie DeShannon. “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. It the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.”

This song, released in the mid-60s, was a plea for something that was missing in the culture –love. The United States had just become involved in the Vietnam War, then Robert Kennedy was assassinated. This song became a sort of audio vigil for a country shaken by political violence. A Los Angeles radio station played the song again and again for over 24 hours. It was an old-school “social media” instrument that pulled a mourning country together.

That tragedy, and a whole generation, confronted our country for its lack of love. I believe we still need to be confronted for our lack of love, because the whole world is crying out for want of it!

Not the mushy, emotional, thing we think is love. The thing that demands, “Be this way, or that way. Be what I need, so I can love you.” No, what the world needs is real love, love that has no demands, makes no claims, and is marked by an outward focus.

The meaning of real love, or agapé, as the Greeks called it, encompasses the attributes of acceptance, equality, tolerance, and respect, yet is uniquely focused on the other. Love does not demand these things for itself, it extends them to the other. In its highest expression, true love is selfless love.

Thinking more about the needs of the other person elicits a change in me. As I begin to release my expectations of who the other person should be, accepting them as they are, I am able to really love them.

After all, this is how I want to be loved, as I am. Isn’t this the way God loves us? With. Out. Condition.

Yes, we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves, but love needs to be expressed along that process. The greatest gift you can give someone is to love them as they are, not as you think they should be.

Everyone loses as we continue to tout the importance of personal preferences, and promote the good of the individual, over the good of the whole.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. But love that is extended, through acceptance, equality, tolerance, and respect. And this love is not just for some, but for everyone.


Threadbare Words is a series of pieces exploring thin, worn-out words. The idea is to examine their real meaning, consider their overuse and, finally take a fresh look at them through the filter of a 21st century mind to discern if they’re still relevant.


If you are enjoying this series, please spread the love, and share on your social media channels with the links below.

Threadbare Words – BLESSED

What is it about this idea or word? For many, the use of the word BLESSED, scratches someplace inside. I’ve spent some time this weekend reading and contemplating why the phenomenon exists, and why many of us struggle when we hear others use the term.

Maybe it’s because it sounds like bragging? Or that it implies that an abundance of material possessions is a measure of God’s favor, and by extension, a scarcity in material possessions a measure of God’s … non-favor … hummm. It gets a little confusing and the logic breaks down.

I think when people say they’re BLESSED, they really mean they feel good.

“I’m blessed at my job.” Means, “I like my job”
“My children are a blessing to me.” Means, “My kid is doing well in school.”
“God blessed me this week.” Means, “I have an abundance of money or things”

Saying “I’m BLESSED,” is a way to say, “I’m happy,” or “I feel good.” But these are modern ideas of being BLESSED don’t really match the concept of BLESSED in the Bible. I’m not really sure that “good feelings” came into play much.

Abraham, was BLESSED! And in Him all nations were/are blessed! Not because he had great wealth, or even wisdom, but because although his marriage was childless, God would bring about the promise of a great number of decedents. Yet, he experienced many struggles, and I’m sure didn’t “feel” happy most of his life.

Jacob, was BLESSED! Because of his diligence in work and planning, his household expanded. Even to the point of flowing over to his extended family and neighbors. An abundance of material possessions, but Jacob’s own life was full of struggles, and frustrations. Exiled, he lived in fear for years. And there was a lot of strife within his large family.

Mary, was BLESSED! The only one in Scripture to claim blessedness for herself. “All generations will call me blessed.” Chosen to bear God’s Son, but oh, the sorrow and deep anguish. A mother’s deepest sadness, to watch her child die.

Jesus taught about real BLESSEDNESS. He tells us what type of people ARE blessed, and what is the highest best in the human condition.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those that mourn, and the meek.
Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, and
Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake.

Wow, doesn’t talk about material possessions as a demonstration of God’s favor, does it? Clearly, being BLESSED has nothing to do with feeling happy.

I struggled in a troubled marriage for several years. Someone (trying to encourage me) said to me, “Don’t you think God wants you to be happy?” I really don’t think God is concerned with my happiness. God is more concerned that I do what is right, and live my life with a clear conscience.

Being BLESSED is:
Having your Hope in eternal things,
Allowing the Truth to be a real comfort to you,
Understanding and practicing the reciprocal nature of Mercy,
Experiencing God, and living a life that demonstrates that relationship.

Next time you’re tempted to say you’re blessed, try saying what you really mean. Say, that you’re happy, or you feel good, or you’re thankful.

Material possessions will come and go. Good times will come and go. The ground of our “blessedness” is not tied to these things, the ground of our “blessedness” is tied to God.


Threadbare Words is a series of pieces exploring thin, worn-out words. The idea is to examine their real meaning, consider their overuse and, finally take a fresh look at them through the filter of a 21st century mind to discern if they’re still relevant.


Threadbare Words – HOPE

We don’t really use this word – HOPE – too much, anymore. I mean, we might hope to get into this school, or hope we land that job, or hope our health improves, or hope we meet that perfect person.

But the idea of real HOPE (a noun) is not something we think about, until we “need it.”

We’re relatively comfortable now, advancements in modern technology have eliminated most sources of suffering.

  • If I’m cold, I turn on the heat.
  • If I’m hungry, I head to the fridge.
  • If I’m sad, I take a pill.
  • If I’m lonely, I check my new feed … again.

But when my world is hit with something I can’t “fix,” then I call to mind this idea of HOPE.

I was forced to think about this concept when my teenage daughter was almost killed in a car accident. So many things were outside my control. Well, actually everything was outside my control, expect me. That first lonely night I sat at her bedside begging God to let her live. But in a all-too-familiar conversation, I knew that God owed me nothing. I also knew that preserving her life was not the measure of His love for me. God let’s those He loves die everyday.

I learned this watching my mother die, now I had to revisit it – this persistent concept of “letting go.” It is an irritating and aggravating concept, and one that does not go away.

HOPE, is the reality, that no matter what happens to me, or those I love … there is something more waiting for me and them.

Something that will not disappoint me, something that is true. A place where there will be no more crying or fretting or illness or sorrow. A place where all will be well.

I do not say this flippantly, as I have experienced many sorrows, and many losses. Through these experiences I have been confronted with the truth, that, no matter what happens while I live, I will not be overcome.

I may not get what I pray for, but I will not be overcome. Not an idea that makes me happy-clappy, but this is HOPE, the anchor of my soul.

HOPE is a thing, a noun. It is more than a feeling or an expectation. HOPE is a reality.


Threadbare Words is a series of pieces exploring thin, worn-out words. The idea is to examine their real meaning, consider their overuse and, finally take a fresh look at them through the filter of a 21st century mind to discern if they’re still relevant.


Want a stronger faith? There’s no app for that!

I remember after speaking at a women’s event, a gal approached me and thanked me for my time.

“I wish I had your faith.” She said.

I smiled and I told her,

“Growing in your faith takes more than wishing.”  

I’ve been working on strengthening my faith for a long time. It is not a quick process. It isn’t difficult, but it takes work. Unlike most of our lives today, you cannot get the most recent app and begin the process.

Thankfully there are others who have already journeyed this path, and have left us breadcrumbs along the way.

I’ve recently shared many of my thoughts in my April, A to Z of Spiritual Growth.

Summarized, the two main elements of Spiritual growth are Self-Knowledge and the work of the Holy Spirit. Self-Knowledge is the starting point, because that is where the work is done, inside oneself. Paul prays for this inner work as he encourages new believers in Ephesus,

“God may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being …”

That “inner being” is really our souls. There are so many things that hide that “inner being.” That part of us that the Holy Spirit wants to reach, and teach.

My mother’s death motivated me to begin this work. I was terrified. I’m thankful I wasn’t alone as I turned inward. On the journey, I found the breadcrumbs left by others. Their experiences provided just what I needed.

I know you have questions that you have not found the answers for. How do I know? Because I did too. You don’t need to struggle on this journey alone.

Visit my page on Spiritual Direction. It might be the thing you need to discover who you are, and how God wants to help you find the answers to the questions you have.

 

When Can I Stop Trying to be Perfect?

I’m so hard on myself. I’ve always struggled with the idea that I must be perfect. It’s partly from my childhood, but partly just who I am. Others can make mistakes, but I cannot. If people could hear the negative self-talk that goes on in my head – they’d be shocked.

I seem to have a difficult time accepting God’s love, I guess it’s because I don’t feel I’ve earned it. Have you felt this way? It’s like I have this idea of who I think I’m supposed to be, the perfect LISA. I’ve learned, that as I attempt to be the perfect LISA, I am missing out on the real LISA. My ideas of perfection get in the way of knowing who I really am.

Most of us carry around a whole bunch of expectations on ourselves. We believe the lies we’ve been told about who we are. We accept without examination the labels that others have placed on us.

How refreshing would it be to rid yourself of these obstacles to true Self-Knowledge? Would you like to free yourself from the lies and labels that hold you back from experiencing God’s love, even if you aren’t sure you deserve it.

Spiritual Direction can help you shed the lies and labels. Would you like to enter into a new way of seeing yourself? Let’s begin the journey. 

Is God Really Faithful?

My mother. Just before I was born. She was 20.

I know I write a lot about my mother, but her faith had a profound effect on me. She died of cancer when I was 28. Odd to think, I’ve lived half my life without her. She had a strong faith in God, one that I didn’t fully understand until she was gone.

While she lived, I was spoiled. I could tap into her “god-connection” anytime by simply calling her. When she died, I was forced to figure out this god-guy on my own. In one respect it was hard, and in another it was easy.

I had to apply myself. I had to ask hard questions. And I had to accept harder answers. Everything I thought I knew was challenged, and she was no longer available through a simple phone call.

In my search, something remarkable happened. As I reached out to God for answers, He reached back to me. I didn’t expect that. I figured that having a faith was like most things in my life, I’d have to depend on myself to get it accomplished. But as I opened myself up to God, He was faithful to meet me in my confusion and help me along the way.

Are you finding the answers to your questions? Are you looking for a new way to hear God. Take a look at my Resources. You might find something that will help. Drop me an email if you have something specific you’d like to discuss. Or visit my Spiritual Direction page and we can begin a discussion.

~ lisa

U is for UNKNOWABLE

I have always found it encouraging to know that we are not alone on this journey to God. There are many who have traveled the road before us and they have left us an abundant supply of tools to utilize in our own efforts. Our lives should be devoted to learning all we can, striving always to know more about God.

BUT, there is an inherent limit to our learning. For hard as we may try, God is beyond our understanding. He is, in the truest sense – Unknowable.

As I began my Spiritual journey, I committed myself to learning all I could about God, His ways, His desires, His plans. As my understanding of God grew, God grew. As my understanding of His love and mercy grew, His love and mercy grew. Without realizing it, I was defining God based on my understanding of Him.

Then my daughter suffered a brain injury which left her cognitively diminished. Her understanding of God changed. As I observed this shift, I realized God didn’t change, only her understanding of him changed. His power was not diminished because her lack of understanding or belief.

I realized then that this must be true for me too. God was not limited by my understanding of him. He is larger than what I can know, larger than what I can experience. If my cognitive functions become diminished, God will not change, only my understanding of Him will change.

As I spent time thinking on this, I came across something written by a Benedictine Abbot. Now Abbots are the leaders in monastic communities, and if ANYONE knows something about God, it would be an Abbot. Yet his writing revealed something different:

Always the search after charity,
Always the search after Christ.
The soul never finding satisfaction in love,
Never knowing whether Christ is found or not.
Walking on the way, but not being sure about it;
Living for the truth, but having to make acts of faith about it.
Sharing the life, but feeling dead.
This is faith.
– Dom Hubert Van Zeller, “The Inner Search”

If you desire to grow Spiritually, you must be willing to accept this truth. In the end result, God is unknowable. This may require full abandonment of what you think you know. And in this abandonment two things are required: humility and trust.

In humility, you yield to God, and
In trust, you follow God.
… often knowing not where He is leading, nor even who He is.

Simple? No, but I believe this is the essence of faith. Wrestle with it, and let me know what you think.



How is Your Lent Going?

Just three weeks into our 40 days and I’m already feeling behind. Well, regardless, I’m thankful for the pause this season offers me.

For the last 5 years I have made a private retreat during Lent. This year I find myself with the Holy Cross Sisters. They have a lovely convent and retreat house in Ventura, California. You can find a link to their Siena Prayer Center on my resources page. 

Once a week one of the sisters invite the community to practice Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina, I was fortunate enough to have joined them a few nights ago.

If you’ve never practiced the Centering Prayer, I cannot recommend it highly enough. It is similar to the eastern practice of meditation, except where the eastern practice is to become centered by emptying yourself and focusing on nothing but your breathing, the Christian tradition, helps you become centered by emptying yourself and focusing on being in God’s presence.

So often in our prayers we ask God to be with us. When truly, he is always with us, we just forget, or we don’t “feel” his presence. The Centering Prayer gives you an opportunity to practice your awareness of his presence. If you missed my post about it, you can read it here.

The Holy Cross Sisters take this a step further and follow their Centering Prayer practice with a group session of Lectio Divina. (Latin for “Divine Reading”) I enjoy group Lectio because I am able to listen to how God uses the same passage to meet numerous people right where they are, and last week was no different. Sr. Gloria Valdovinos skillfully lead us through group Lectio with the passage of the Prodigal Son.

The practice of Lectio Divina is a simple, intentional reading of a sacred passage. Traditionally there are four stages: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio. In English, you might say: Reading, Ruminating, Response, and Rest.

For me there is a physical movement of the passage; it enters into my being through my eyes, LECTIO – reading. It moves into my mind for mediation – MEDITATIO. God allows something in the passage to touch my life, and I develop a verbal response to the passage, ORATIO – prayer. Finally, I give the passage rest in my heart, CONTEPLATIO – contemplation.

An ancient practice, Lectio Divina has its roots in the Benedictine tradition. Although practiced by the Holy Cross Sisters as a group exercise, it is usually worked as an individual spiritual practice.

I thought during Lent you might be interested in learning more about it and giving it a try, so I’ve put together some information on it. Click here and I’ll send it off to you. The information is borrowed, with permission from Fr. Luke Dysinger, OSB, of Saint Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California.

I also have curated some resources for Group Lectio Divina. If you would like these resources for use in your own church or small group, drop me and an email and I’ll get them off to you. lisa@dailypax.com

I hope you are having a fruitful Lent.

~ lisa