It Is Well with My Soul

(This post is part of the February synchroblog “Renewal”)

“How’s your soul?” Pastor Sarah asked one day.

I was momentarily taken aback because I hadn’t really thought about it. Then I answered, “I’m really happy. Satisfied. Content. It is well with my soul.”

It came as a bit of a surprise to me. You see, I’ve spent my whole life moving from liminal space to liminal space. You know what liminal space is – it’s the feeling you have when you have finished one phase of your life, but you aren’t ready or able to move to the next phase yet. Think of it as a doorway – you’ve left the room you were in, but you haven’t really entered the next room. Sometimes we get caught there – in liminal space – and we can’t go back but we can’t go forward either.

Possibly my continual feeling of search for liminal space had to do with the way I was raised. We lived in 9 houses in 7 towns/cities before I graduated from high school. I never could get too attached to any place, or to any group of people other than my family, because I knew we would be moving pretty soon.

After I met and married Al, the pattern continued, since he was in the Air Force, and there was always another assignment in the future – probably no more than 3 years away. So even the rooms in my life took on some of the aspects of the doorways in and out – liminal space.

I certainly don’t resent the liminal space of my life. There are those who say you never learn anything unless you are in liminal space. Sometimes the lessons were easy and sometimes they were hard, but I was learning all the while.

And then both Al and I retired, and I got our parents buried and our children married, and we looked at each other and said, “Whew, what do we want to do with the rest of our lives, and where do we want to do it?”

We knew we didn’t want to live where there were hot summers or where there were cold, snowy winters, so we decided on the Pacific Northwest. In 2009, we spent several weeks traveling around Washington and Oregon looking for a great place to live – beautiful scenery, temperate climate, with the services we might need from the military, and a great retirement community. We settled on Franke Tobey Jones here in Tacoma, and went home to Dallas to sell the house.

Then we entered the most difficult liminal space of my life. For three years we sat in a house that we were trying to sell – with all the attendant hope and despair – and waited. We had told our church, and our friends, and our family of our plans, and we were ready to leave in a month or so – as soon as the house sold. But no buyers came forward. We detached from activities and friends – we were adrift – we were lost in liminal space.

Fortunately, during that time, I was able to connect with some really good friends virtually. They lived on the internet, so I knew I wouldn’t lose them when we relocated.  Some I’ve met in real life, and some stay where I found them in virtual space – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t as important to me as flesh and blood people whom I see every day. Many of them are pastors. Most of them are Presbyterians. Sarah was one of them – even in 2009, three years before we met in person.

One of the most important things I learned during those three years was the importance of Centering Prayer. Some people call it meditation, or mindfulness, but I know it as prayer. I still practice it every day. It’s a time set aside to let God work in me. It’s a time spent in silence. It’s a time spent in contemplation. It’s not a time for asking God for help for me or others. It’s not even a time for praising God. There are no words involved. If thoughts come into my head, I’ve learned to just let them go. And somewhere in the silence, God works through my problems, takes my worries and replaces them with contentment.

It sounds terribly cliché, but perhaps we use the clichés because they are true. I’ve learned “It’s not up to me.” I can say “It is what it is.” I truly “Let go and let God.”

So now, in this beautiful, green leafy world, watched over by Mt. Rainier, and tempered by Puget Sound, I repeat, “it is well with my soul.


Synchroblog “Renewal” link list

Done With Religion – Renewal

Mark Votova – 30 Ways the Church Can Find Renewal

Jeremy Myers – I am Dying … (So I Can Live Again)

Phil Lancanster – The Parable of the Classic Car

Susan Schiller – Renewal by Design

Glenn Hager – Repurposed

Wesley Rostoll – Why I no longer pray for revival

Clara Ogwuazor-Mbamalu – Renewal of the Spirit

K. W. Leslie – Those who wait on the Lord

Lisa Brown – Momma’s Kick Off Your Shoes and Stay For A While!

Jenom Makama – …Like An Antivirus

Leah – Renewal!



Yesterday and today were really busy.

First we started out with a trip to Key Peninsula for a Cottage Meeting for Bethany Presbyterian Church. After wonderful growth, both with adults and children, over the past couple of years, we have realized that God is probably calling us to do something, and we’re not sure what it is. By wonderful growth, I mean we have gone from an average attendance of 73 to an average attendance of 102 in worship on Sunday mornings. That is a year-long rolling average, so it’s quite a jump.

We have also gone from one or maybe two kids (ages 3-11) to a crowded chancel for Children’s Sermon. We’re still not to the place where we can split the Sunday School class in two, but we’re almost there. So we’re doing a lot of listening to the congregation, and trying to give everyone an opportunity for input. Another really amazing thing – we completed about 75% of our last 5-year strategic plan – and it’s time for another one.

* * * * *

We came home and I had lunch while Big Al had a “wonderful” bowl of chicken broth. He had a colonoscopy scheduled for this morning so he couldn’t eat anything solid yesterday.

* * * * *

I scurried over to the library at Lillian Pratt for our monthly Book Club meeting. We read Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. Everybody said they had a hard time getting into it initially, but once they got the storylines sorted out in their heads they were really impressed with it. Our ratings ranged from 3.5-5 out of 5, and several people said they would read it again, and recommend it to their friends. I was glad about that because I was the one who had recommended it originally. Even people who had a hard time following the stories said that her choice of words and her sentences are so beautiful it really doesn’t make much difference whether you like the story or not.

* * * * *

In the evening I went to Centering Prayer at Bethany. Unfortunately, I was the only one there again this week. It may be time to put this particular activity at the church to bed. If I’m going to be the only one, I can do it just as well at home.

* * * * *

Following that, I went to the inaugural meeting of the Tacoma Worship and Arts Collective. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be, but I was invited by the preacher, and I thought it would be interesting. They had to change the day from Thursday to Wednesday at the last minute, so no one else from Bethany was able to come (choir practice is on Wednesday evenings).

As I said, I had no idea what it was going to be, but when I got there I was at least 30 years older than anyone else in the place. Several of the participants were students at the University of Puget Sound, and the organizers were young ministers. They made me feel welcome though, although I didn’t really have an “art” to offer. I did say that I had a pretty good ear and a decent eye, so I would be glad to help by serving as a loving critic.

The idea of the group is to develop some new Worship resources – three of them had guitars and one was an excellent pianist. There were also a couple of writers/poets, and a couple of girls were interested in drawing and painting, and there were a couple of photographers. We were sort of feeling our way this first time, and we were asked to “create” around a theme of chaos and order. It was probably too large of a concept for an initial meeting, but we had a good time, listening to the guitarists jam, and talking about what was meaningful in worship now. Folks are supposed to finish whatever they started working on last night and bring it to the next meeting in a month. We shall see.

* * * * *

This morning, we were up early (6:30 a.m.) to take Big Al to the Digestive Health Center. We got there about 7:30 and by 8:00 they were taking him back for the procedure. By 9:15 they called me back to talk to him and the doctor, who said he was fine (Praise the Lord). There was one tiny polyp and one small polyp that he removed. Much better than the first time when there were so many polyps the doctor wanted him back every year for three years. It’s been three years, this time, and, depending on what the pathology report shows he can either go three or five years before he has to have another one. They say they quit doing colonoscopies when you get to be 80 years old, so he may only have to have one more! I had one when I turned 65 and could have Medicare pay for it, and they told me at the time that I didn’t have to come back for 10 years – so maybe I can get off with not having but one more. Fingers crossed.

Spirit of the Living God

I went to a workshop at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church today, led by Mark Yaconelli. He did a workshop here a couple of years ago and was such a hit we had him come back. His title was Living Without Anxiety in an Anxious World.

First we started out with learning about, and practicing Centering Prayer. He said there was really no way to “do it wrong,” just to let ourselves be open to God’s working in the silence. I learned about Centering Prayer a couple of years ago at a conference on Spiritual Practices, and have kind of adapted it to myself. I usually say the Holy Spirit takes a shower with me in the mornings. As I stand under the running water, I just let my mind go. Often during that time God speaks to me and gives me encouragement and often gives me tasks to do – later when I get out of the shower. After I get out, I usually just wrap up in a towel and sit on the edge of the bed looking out the window into our little patio. We have a wren who has been very busy building a nest and now feeding babies in our garage, so I get to watch her flitting back and forth with the choice bugs for her nestlings. I often take fifteen or twenty minutes just sitting there appreciating God.

After a break, Mark had us each get some Play-Doh, and just play with it, while asking our souls what they needed. I discovered my soul was a terrible punster, because it insisted I realize I needed to be needed while I kneaded the Play-Doh. After I squelched that giggling voice, I found myself shaping a cup and the song Spirit of the Living God began playing in my head. You remember that song, it goes,

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Then we split up into groups of three or four and talked about what we were feeling while we were playing with the clay, and I told my little group that I kept singing that song over and over to myself while I made my little soul-cup. We talked a little in the big group about what we were feeling, and then Mark had us bring our little soul sculptures and place them around the base of the cross.

Finally, we all joined hands in a circle around the cross and our sculptures, and Mark said, “To close, let’s sing Spirit of the Living God. Can someone start it for us?” Of course, I began singing right away, because after all, the Holy Spirit had been singing it in my ear for the past hour.

I just wish She would give me some warning when She’s going to show up like that. She makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up when She does it!