We moved up the street!

Truck

Come visit my blog’s new home by clicking on either of these links:

lenwoods.com

or

the woodswords.com

While you’re there–gawking at new fonts and features–can I ask a favor?

Would you take three seconds (okay, five, if you’re a slow typist)  to subscribe? I promise not to “sell your email address” (as if I would even know how to do that). You’ll just receive a notice whenever I have a new blogpost.

Thanks for coming by!

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When God seems absent

gmacdonaldWe’ve all had those days (weeks? seasons? years?) when God seemed more like an imaginary friend than a living, present reality in our lives.

During those times, the spiritual life can start to feel like so much wishful thinking. What we see swamps all the things we can’t see. Faith gives way to fear.

I found this great prayer from George Macdonald (pictured at right). If you’re struggling to believe today, I commend it to you:

Therefore, O Lord, when all things common seem,
When all is dust, and self the center clod,
When grandeur is a hopeless, foolish dream,
And anxious care more reasonable than God–
Out of the ashes I will call to thee–
In spite of dead distrust call earnestly:
O thou who livest, call, then answer dying me.

Diary of an Old Soul, August 31

How great is that?!

Let’s Go to the (Blog) Hop

A few weeks ago, I was asked by good friend and fellow blogger, Loralu Conville, to consider being part of something called a “Blog Hop.”

Blogging

John Sutton, Flickr, Creative Commons

My initial reaction was to run. “Blog Hop” sounds WAY too much like “sock hop.” (And my own “sock hop” experiences are the stuff of multiple counseling sessions—if ever I muster up the courage to confront those painful junior high memories).

However, I did NOT run (if only because Lora can run much faster and farther than I). I asked for clarification. Lora explained that a “Blog Hop” is just “a fun way to introduce bloggers we know and like to a new audience.”

Lora is convincing. She can make doing your taxes sound like a week in Cabo. She has been known to talk her hiker friends into walking through bear country with ribeye steaks strapped to their thighs. So, of course, I said yes; nobody says no to Lora. (By the way, she blogs—very honestly!— here. Check her out.)

Today, in keeping with the official “Blog Hop” rules as set forth by the International Bloggers Federation, I will introduce you to a couple of bloggers I think you should know about. Then, I’ll answer four questions about my blogging habits (such as they are).

Chris Hanchey is a native of Ruston, LA, and a good friend. A skilled worship leader and extremely gifted communicator at The Bridge Community Church, Chris has been battling acute myeloid leukemia for the past 10 months and blogging about his journey. He’s honest and funny, and one of the best guys I know. You should know him too. A devoted husband to Karen and dad to three adorable kids, Chris doesn’t get to blog a lot, but when he does, it’s well worth the read. He blogs here. (FYI, Chris also has an unpleasant “sock hop” memory.)

Cassie Hammett is a young lady I know more by reputation than personal interaction (though she and I have met and have a lot of friends in common). How would I describe Cassie? How about “creative, bold, visionary, full of passion and compassion”? Cassie starts and leads stuff—innovative, life-changing ministries like The Hub, and Purchased. And God just keeps working through her in amazing ways! Cassie lives in Shreveport, LA, with her husband Brent, and they are parents to a beautiful adopted daughter, Liv Nima. Cassie has recently started blogging here. She’s someone to watch (and read).

Okay, now to the Q&A portion of this deal. (Can I say I’m really glad it doesn’t include a swimsuit competition? Hey, but if it did, I’m pretty sure I would go with my navy blue one-piece.)

1. What am I writing or working on?

I am just this week transitioning out of vocational church ministry after almost 25 years (a roundabout way of saying, “I currently don’t have a job”). I am hopeful this next chapter of life will allow me to do a lot more writing. Playing around with words is something I’ve always loved, but I haven’t been able to do much of it since 2008.

Right now I’m trying to get my head around this whole blogging phenomenon. Also I’m working on getting a few other ideas (both non-fiction and fiction) out of my head, off my many legal pads, and onto the computer screen. No question, getting that first draft is the hardest work of all.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I read an article this morning stating there are some 152 million blogs online, and that every half-second someone else starts another one. If that’s true, there’s got to be a ton of overlap, redundancy, and “copycatting,” right? I am trying to remember the old adage: “If I try to be someone else, then who will be me?” Hopefully, I can add my own unique voice and experience to the blogosphere.

3. Why do I write what I write?

Because I’m a lousy singer/songwriter.

Seriously, writing is how I tend to respond to mysteries, beauty, deep truth, troubling questions, or amazing people and experiences. Writing is the best way I’ve found to sort of wrestle life moments to the ground.

I’ve always been a reader. And it’s been through reading great thoughts, well-expressed, that I’ve been powerfully challenged, encouraged, reminded, touched, and changed. I’d like to hope my words could occasionally do that for others—prompting them to think more clearly, feel more deeply, and act more nobly.

4. How does my writing process work?

I scribble ideas on assorted legal pads and sticky notes. Then I let those ideas “steep” in my mind for a while. I jot down related thoughts and additional details as they show up. Eventually, the one idea that keeps rearing its head above the rest gets my full attention. I’ll brainstorm a bit more and then sit down and write. (My optimal writing time is in the early morning hours.)

Because I was an editor for a couple of years, I have a tendency to edit myself as I go. I’m trying to practice the mantra: “Write recklessly; rewrite ruthlessly.” But old habits die hard!

Too many words, not enough years

Twitter PicI first proposed this exercise on Facebook more than five years ago. It was so interesting then, I thought why not do it again? (Besides, with all our 140 character tweets the last three or four years, we’re getting better and better at “concise,” right?)

Here’s the deal: Summarize your life–but you can only use as many words as you’ve had years.* Meaning, if you’re 27, you get 27 words–no more, no less (do you like how quickly I did that advanced math?) Your words can be whole sentences or random phrases. You can choose all verbs or 100% nouns. Use whatever creative combination you want. But you only get one word for each and every year of your life.

I’m 55, so here’s my life in EXACTLY 55 words:

From North Louisiana to the Northshore

Real-life “Stand by Me”

Aisle walker

Death comes home

Ambushed at Atakapa

Heartbreak and “the hot seat”

Tulip Street

Learning Hebrew in Texas

Cindi from Indy!

Honeymoon in Hotlanta

Going back to college

Parenting “salad years”

“Author, author!”

Dark decade of the soul

Reconciliation!

Out of gas

New chapter?!

I’d love to see a summary of your life!

*If it strikes you as unfair that older folks get more words, well, hey–we’ve lived longer and (at least theoretically) have more to summarize, right?

What will your verse be?

John KeatingThe latest Apple iPad commercial ends with the tagline: “What will your verse be?” This is a reference to the Walt Whitman poem, “O Me! O Life!” (popularized in the classic Robin Williams movie Dead Poets Society). The essence of Whitman’s inspiring poem is that each of us gets to contribute a unique stanza to the Great Story of Life. The essence of Apple’s commercial is that you will be able to do this much more creatively and effectively if you first purchase one of their iPads.

Okay, I’m being cynical (I love our iPad).  But I really love the question, “What will your verse be?” It inspires me to seek out and do the things which only I can do. And I like it for a second reason: it reminds me of a similar question I was asked my freshman year at college.

I was at a Bible study of all things. An older guy asked me, “Hey, Len, what’s your life verse?” I looked at him blankly. I actually knew very little about the Bible, despite having grown up in a Christian, church-going family. When I was young, my grandparents had given me a King James Bible. I dutifully tried to read it. But I was thwarted by a style of English that was nothing like the English I knew. (Plus the print was so tiny, it seemed like a giant book of footnotes.)

In my early teen years, someone gave me something called The Way (i.e., the Living Bible, a best-selling paraphrase written by Ken Taylor). It was groovy-looking and actually readable. I sort of enjoyed it…until a guest preacher at our church denounced it. “I only have two problems with the Living Bible,” he smirked. “One, it’s not living. And two, it’s not the Bible.” He didn’t overtly say I would be going to hell for reading the Living Bible. But his tone definitely implied that by reading it, I was headed in a hell-ish direction. .

The-Way

So when I arrived on the LSU campus, I knew only the most famous Bible stories and only two Bible verses by heart: John 3:16 and John 11:35 (i.e. “Jesus wept.”)

What happened first is that God ambushed me. No lie. The fall semester of my freshman year, I went to a Campus Crusade for Christ retreat hoping to meet girls. I met the Almighty instead. Understand I absolutely was NOT looking for God. Looking back now, I know that He was stalking me. He came crashing into my life at a place called Camp Atakapa. John Wesley described his God experience by saying he felt his heart “strangely warmed.” My experience was something like that. I just know that I vividly sensed God summoning me into a deeper relationship with Himself.

What happened next is that I felt an insatiable hunger for the Bible. I wanted to read it. Everybody I knew had something called the New American Standard Bible. So I got one of my own and began pouring over it. And though I still didn’t understand most of what I was reading, I often felt like God was speaking to me. The book seemed alive and relevant to my life. Sometimes verses seemed to leap off the page! I even started going to Bible studies with others.

Which is how and where I met the guy I mentioned above, the one who asked me about my “life verse.” I sheepishly mumbled that I didn’t know what he meant. He very gently explained that a life verse is a Bible verse that, more than any other, really resonates with your heart. Maybe it sums up your experience with God or His grace in your life. Perhaps it acts like a compass, or an anchor. I thought that was a really cool idea. I starting looking for my own “life verse.”

But soon I noticed a kind of gamesmanship in all this. Some folks seemed to go out of their way to find a cryptic life verse out of an obscure book like Hebrews or Habakkuk—almost as if to say, “Look how spiritual I am” (knowing that most of us were sitting there thinking, “Habakkuk?! Is that in the Old or New Testament?!”)

I know a guy who, when asked this life verse question, very nearly blurted out the first thing that came to his mind, which was Deuteronomy 23:1. Good thing for him he held his tongue. That particular verse reads: “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”

I had another friend who, in order to tweak the spiritually pompous in our midst, would claim this “life verse” (from the Living Bible, no less!):

“Wear fine clothes—with a dash of cologne!” (Ecclesiastes 9:8)

For a while I claimed, with a straight face: “My life verse is 1 Chronicles 26:18: ‘At the Parbar on the west there were four at the highway and two at the Parbar.’ Isn’t that AMAZING?” I would gush. “I can’t begin to tell you how much that one verse has changed my life!”

Christians do silly things, don’t we? But you know what? A life verse isn’t a bad idea. What would your verse be? Perhaps mine would be Mark 9:24, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” The honest words–the prayer, really–of a sincere man who, in a desperately scary moment, wavered somewhere between faith and unbelief. But instead of only panicking, he also pleaded, asking Christ to increase his trust by diminishing his doubt.

Wouldn’t it be a good thing if I could contribute THAT to the Great Story of Life–a life of simple faith?

When it comes to “life verses,” what would your verse be? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Looking behind you to see what’s ahead

What if I told you that your past is littered with clues about your future? What if I told you that you just might find your way forward by looking back over your shoulder?

Here’s what I mean. Here’s an example from my life. When I was, I don’t know–four? five?–I learned how to print both my first and last name. This was an ENORMOUS deal to me for one reason: I could now get my very own library card.

The experience is not HD sharp in my mind, but I do have a fuzzy memory of pushing my signed “application” back across the librarian’s desk. She examined it, smiled, and said something like, “This looks just fine, Len. Why don’t you go pick out some books while I make up your new card.”

library2

Copyrighted Flickr Creative Commons photo by Ruth Hartnup http://bit.ly/1q9696S

My own library card?! She might as well have told me, “You just won the lottery!” Come to think of it, maybe that’s precisely what happened.

For years, every single week, almost without fail, my mom took my sisters and me to the Slidell library. She never rushed us. And she didn’t hover over us. We were free. Free to roam through the stacks and peruse hundreds of shelves. I remember running my fingers across the spines of thousands of books, each one the doorway to a whole new world.

I couldn’t have articulated it this way at the tender age of five, but I know now these weekly visits were holy experiences. Instead of incense, the smell of books. The whole place quiet like a cathedral. If you talked at all, you had to whisper. But, of course, isn’t that what one instinctively does when one is in awe?

After an hour or so–I don’t know how long we actually stayed, because time seemed to stand still in that place–Mom would find us and tell us to gather up our selections. I would eagerly lug my armload of books to the front desk, set them on the counter, and proudly produce my very own library card. My personal passport to history and adventure and amazing stories from exotic places.

Given this piece of my past, is it any surprise that I love words and books and great stories? Or that I enjoy trying to write words that will make people think more clearly, feel more deeply, and act more nobly?

What about you? What incidents or experiences from your past might be clues to your deep passions and unique calling?

The Forest of Knees

My last visit to Disneyworld was a long time ago. I won’t reveal the year, but let’s just say it was back when Disney only had about four animated characters total (okay…11 if you count Snow White’s friends).

We were standing in a plaza (because Disney has a thing for plazas). We were part of an enormous crowd (because mobs of people have a thing for Disney). Suddenly we heard screaming. Maybe a better word is shrieking. I halfway expected glass to begin shattering.

The crowd parted a bit to reveal, down there amidst all the adult knees, a tiny, terrified kid, perhaps five, wailing and jabbering words I couldn’t understand. He appeared to be of Indian descent, but even with the language barrier it was clear to all what he was saying: “I’m lost. I don’t recognize any of these knees. The leg I have been hanging on to is not the leg I thought it was.”

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Photo by Satish Krishnamurthy, available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial license

A kindly woman bent low to speak words of comfort. This only sent the child into greater panic! So a big man reached low, grabbed the little guy, lifted him high in the air, and, in one motion, set him on top of a concrete wall. This startled the boy so much that for a moment or two he stopped his squalling.

Then, as he frantically scanned the plaza from his lofty perch, we watched his expression morph from sheer terror to absolute joy. There were his relieved parents, waving, calling his name, making their way to him. What followed was a great Disney-esque reunion scene.

I share this story because I can relate to that little kid. Changing careers later in life is scary. It’s like finding yourself in a forest of knees. I’m separated from what I know and surrounded by work opportunities that are utterly foreign. I feel hemmed in by skills I didn’t learn years ago, and now wish I had. All about me are countless, unfamiliar options that need to be researched and pondered.

No doubt you’ve been in a similar unnerving place (maybe you’re there now). If it’s not career change, it might be illness, financial crisis, or relational woe. That intimidating expense in front of you, the large uncomfortable conversation that you can’t get around. Amidst the knees, you sense danger all about. You can’t quite see your way forward. You feel lost. You just want to scream.

Two things about this incident of the frightened little guy at Disney encourage me as I stand here today among the knees. One, though the boy felt utterly lost, he wasn’t. All the time, his parents were only a few yards away. He just couldn’t see that reality…until someone helped him get a better view.

Two (and here I’m speculating, but I suspect accurately), the boy’s terrifying moments in that plaza were only a blip within a longer, magical Disney experience. All these years later, I remember his few moments of terror. I bet he only recalls a trip with Mom and Dad to a really fun and happy place.