Swim With Me, God

Transitions have not always been easy for me. Like many others, I like to be comfortable and tend to fear the unknown. Yet over the years I’ve discovered that times of transition always provide opportunities for spiritual growth. As we move from one stage of life to another, God often appears in the unlikeliest places if our hearts are open and our eyes are focused on the love of Jesus, which will never let us go.

I wrote these poems as part of my 2015 book, Recess; Rediscovering Play and Purpose, which was published by Cass Community Publishing House and is also available through Amazon.

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 19: The Pavilion of Wings & Live Animal Presentation held at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum on July 19, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging) LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 19: The Pavilion of Wings & Live Animal Presentation held at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum on July 19, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)
God of Small Doses

Small images here and there of a God who longs to be seen;
God in excellence, God in music, God in people, God in the world;
Whatever you do, do it with your whole heart as best you can.
Signs of the holy are everywhere.
Don’t let God pass you by.
Stop.  Look.  Listen.
Butterflies again – they chase me; my head is a landing strip.
A continual emptying of self makes room for God.
Can I still see God in the midst of long days and a myriad of demands?
Do I work at my play?
Worship my work?
Play at worship?
Maybe there is another way.
Give surprise a chance.
Work at work,
Play at play,
Worship at worship.
Small doses of a God who longs to be seen.

Moving to a new job or location is often unsettling, and we ask ourselves, “Will I find friends? Will I be successful? Will you go before me, God?” Andre Gide’s words give me hope and remind me how important it is to trust that God goes before us, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

Swim with Me

I don’t want to lose sight of the shore, God.
I’m scared that I won’t be able to find my way back.
Frankly, God, I’ve never done transitions well.
I’d much rather stay in my comfort zone than discover new lands.
So why am I putting myself through this?
Why do you put me through this?
I want to stick close to shore.
Keep my feet on the ground and my head above water.
What do I need to learn about you, God – and about myself?
The disciples put their nets out into deep water when you asked.
They couldn’t even gather in all the fish.
I’m afraid of losing control – of letting go – of trusting you totally.
Maybe you’ll just have to push me into the water, God.
Just don’t leave me, please.
Swim with me.
Keep my head above water.
Flood me with a cold, sea-sharp wash of relief so that I can see my life more clearly.

Today I am going home to Pennsylvania to reconnect with my past and remember who I am. I will be visiting my father and the rest of my family saints, those who knew me from birth, formed me spiritually and have always loved me unconditionally.

Laurie family IMG_0220
For All the Saints

Where would I be without the saints?
The great cloud of witnesses that cheers me on.
Nurturing and guiding me, modeling what a Christ-like life looks like.
My beloved grandmothers, Mary and Martha, reminding me of the importance of both action and contemplation.
My mother and father, without whom I would be nothing;
Joan, whose tragic death inspired me to dare to sit on an organ bench and carry on her legacy;
The faithful in my home church, encouraging me, showing me what a faithful life looks like.
The nameless people whose kindness touched me when I was in need.
Why was I so blessed?
How many lives have I touched on my journey?
How will I be remembered?
She was too busy?  She never stopped to talk?  She didn’t know how to let go?
All I want, God, is to love you and bring in your kingdom on this earth for all people.
May I be faithful to you in one life I have.
More hugs, more smiles, more mentoring, more inspiration;
More of you, less of me.
For all the saints who have gone before and blazed the trail;
A path of wisdom, love, courage, strength and spiritual wisdom.
I mean to be one, too.

As I prepare to move to a new home in Iowa, may I remember that I am always at home with God. Grateful for old friends from many different locations, I look forward to making new friends, embracing new adventures of faith and seeing new glimpses of the kingdom of heaven on earth. Swim with me, God.

The Church That Dazzles!


Dazzle: “to overpower with too much light” or “to confuse, surprise or delight by being or doing something special or unusual.” Do you know of any organizations that use the word “dazzling” to describe themselves? When is the last time your church dazzled?

Anyone with a connection to Ann Arbor, Michigan cannot fail to know about Zingerman’s. With three University of Michigan graduates in my family, I have been to both Zingerman’s Delicatessen and Zingerman’s Roadhouse more than once.


Zingerman’s dazzles! Started as a deli in 1982 by Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig in an historic building near the Farmer’s Market in Ann Arbor, Zingerman’s has expanded into a collection of small food-related business in the Ann Arbor area that are operated by partners who share ownership.

  • Imagine how your congregation might dazzle if your church mission statement reflected the energy and pleasure of Zingerman’s mission.

We share the Zingerman’s Experience; Selling food that makes you happy; Giving service that makes you smile; In passionate pursuit of our mission; Showing love and care in all our actions; To enrich as many lives as we possibly can.

Does your worship elicit joy? Do guests to your church feel the love and leave with a smile on their face? Do your ministries enrich the lives of church members as well as those you serve?


  • Imagine how your congregation might dazzle if you followed Zingerman’s Guiding Principles.

Great Food!

Authentic worship services that engage all the senses and surprise with their creativity are essential to attract new people.

Great Service!

Is your primary focus on serving guests who come to your church as well as people in need outside of your church?

A Great Place to Shop and Eat!

Here is how Zingerman’s describes it. “We provide a dazzling environment for our customers and staff. It’s neat! It’s clean! It’s Zingerman’s! Floors are swept and mopped constantly, windows sparkle, employees fall to the floor, colliding with each other as they race to clear each table before the guest has hardly moved away from it.”

How do your church buildings and programs sparkle with energy?

Solid profits!

Is your church serious about cultivating generosity and stewardship for the sake of God’s mission in the world?

A Great Place to Work!

Does your staff love what they do and have fun, and do you treat them well?

Strong Relationships!

Do you encourage each other to increase in grace and hope and become your best selves?

A Place to Learn!

Are you providing continual opportunities for spiritual growth?

An Active Part of Our Community!

Would your community notice if you weren’t around anymore?


  •  Imagine how your ministries might dazzle if you had a long term vision for your congregation.

In 2006 Zingerman’s began creating a vision for the year 2020. The vision was written by the managing partners of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses and reviewed and enhanced by hundreds of staff members.

Zingerman’s 2020 Vision document says, “We’ve successfully applied the model of sustainability to all aspects of our work. Today in 2020 everyone and everything we engage with – in our personal and professional lives; our business and community; our customers and staff; our suppliers and environment – are better than they were when we embarked on this vision fifteen years ago. We have created a community of businesses where people willingly bring their whole selves to work. We feel free to express ourselves and tap into our deepest creative potential. We believe in what we are doing and integrate our sense of purpose into who we are.”

Does your congregation have a vision for the future? Can you see beyond 2016 or even beyond the next month? Do you know where you are headed? Any congregation can begin to dazzle by looking at each aspect of its ministry with new eyes.

How can your building dazzle? It doesn’t have to be new, but it also doesn’t have to look cluttered, tired or dirty.

How can your nursery dazzle? Parents today expect that we are ready and capable of caring for their little ones with tenderness and competence. New toys and equipment and friendly faces indicate to parents how much we really care about families.

How can your worship dazzle? Great leaders bring their most creative planning to worship, with high energy, inspiration, opportunity for silence and meditation as well a constant challenge to connect faith with the world.

How can your electronic and print communications dazzle? Adapting to the changing face of electronic communication through an attractive church website and social media is no longer an option.

How can your staff and congregation members dazzle? Guests have positive first impressions when they are cheerfully engaged with smiles, hospitality and genuine warmth.

How can your programs dazzle? Vital churches understand that families, couples and singles are all looking for opportunities to grow spiritually, nurture their children in the faith and make a difference in the world.

Zingerman’s Vision for the Year 2020 includes this paragraph, “We know that we are a small presence in the universe; we make and sell food. Rather than focusing on a few grand gestures, we take hundreds and thousands of small actions with great passion and great love. We are changing the world with every transaction.”

Every church can dazzle! And every disciple can dazzle! When we believe that we change the world with each handshake, each hug, each kind word, each song, each Sunday school class, each youth group meeting, each outreach project, each hospital visit and each prayer, it will happen. How will your church surprise and delight by dazzling this week?

God Never Issues Tickets, Just Grace

On our way back from Traverse City on Saturday afternoon, a police officer along the side of the two-lane road we were driving turned around and tailed us for eight miles. The police were out in full force over the Memorial Day weekend, Gary watched his speed, and I had déjà vu.

“When you accept a driver’s license from the State of Michigan, you are receiving permission from the State to drive. That’s right…permission. You are not being given a gift. You do not possess the right to drive. You are being extended a privilege – and that privilege is extended only for as long as you prove yourself to be a safe and responsible driver. You must become familiar with the rules of the road and abide by them.”

“Okay,” I thought. “Rub it in!” I had just begun reading 210 pages of the Basic Driver Improvement Course of the State of Michigan in preparation for a fifty question “Final Exam.”  Determined not to be cynical, I decided to make this a fun time. It was early July of 2015.

“Ma’am, did you realize that you did not come to a complete stop at the stop sign a block back?” The police officer seemed almost apologetic. “There is construction in the area, and neighbors are complaining that cars are racing down the street.”

“I wasn’t racing, was I?”

“No, ma’am, not at all, but you didn’t come to a complete stop at the sign. Almost, but not quite.”

“Could I at least ask a favor? Could my fine go toward fixing the potholes?”

Sigh. Less than two years after driving into a speed trap in the town where I live, I did it again. In both instances, every day for a week after I was stopped, I saw the same police officer pull over motorists for the same infraction. I only had one ticket in the previous forty years of driving.


Just the day before I didn’t quite stop, I was on the interstate and cars were driving so fast I prayed for God to protect us all. Why are police officers not ticketing motorists for driving 90 to 100 miles an hour or weaving in and out of four lane highways but catch us for a second or two of extra motion at a stop sign?

I paid the fine and got over it … until I received a letter in the mail, informing me that my stop sign violation would be reported to my insurance company unless I took a six hour in-person driving course or completed an online class. I had two months to complete the course, which I decided to do so that my insurance rate wouldn’t increase.

After procrastinating, and with just two weeks left, I realized I had to get started. I registered for the online course, paid my $49 and checked out the FAQ’s.

 Question: “Is your Basic Driver Improvement Course difficult to complete?”

 Answer: “We promise you’ll love the ease and simplicity of our Basic Driver Improvement Course. Our easy-to-read Internet course is entertaining, informative, and loaded with colorful graphics, videos, and cartoons. And we fill the course with hilarious traffic jokes to make the experience more enjoyable. We want you to laugh while you learn!”

I gave myself a pep talk. “You will benefit from this course, Laurie. And you will have fun doing it because driving is a privilege.” There were ten sections to the course, so I began to read. An hour later, I finished section one and completed the quiz. Only nine more chapters to go. Amazed at what I was learning over the course of five days, I squeezed in my reading late into the night and early in the morning. Naturally, I couldn’t help but make connections between driving and the Christian life.

  • “Driving is a community endeavor. We’re all on the road together.”
    • The church is the body of Christ where each one is valuable and necessary to the whole.
  • “If you are in an accident, you are required to stop and help.”
    • The church isn’t the church if we don’t care for and nurture the spiritual, emotional, relational and physical health of others inside and outside the church.
  • “Give your full attention to driving. Four factors that can interfere with your concentration and ‘cloud the lens’ of your attention are stress, fatigue, emotional distress, and distractions (i.e. cell phones). A fifth factor, alcohol and other drugs, presents another hazard to driving.”
    • Don’t be an “almost Christian,” according to John Wesley. Be an “altogether Christian.” Give your whole self to Christ and God’s work in the world.
  • “In the driving environment, road rage is the ultimate ‘anti-courtesy.’ Road rage is ‘violent behavior exhibited by drivers in traffic, often as a manifestation of stress.’
    • Just like on the road, people occasionally lose it at church as well. While church should be a safe place for everyone to express themselves, it’s no excuse for flying off the handle at Joe because the sound system failed or Mabel because she overcooked the pies or Sally because she inadvertently left someone off the list of volunteers at the soup kitchen.
  • “Practice basic driving etiquette.” Use your turn signal; turn on your lights; don’t tailgate; wear your seat belt; make sure your car is in good working order; keep your eyes on the road; don’t litter; and slow down in construction zones
    • Greet people warmly when they sit in “your” pew; turn off your phone; don’t make paper airplanes out of the bulletins; feel free to nap if you need the rest; don’t talk to your friend during the sermon; and introduce yourself to guests.
  • Alcohol-related collisions accounted for 10,228 fatalities nationwide in 2010, or about one casualty every fifty-one minutes.
    • Rejoice that United Methodist churches don’t serve alcohol.
  • Be a patient driver: always arrive safe.

This is where things got a bit dicey. I was losing my patience. After ten hours I had read 210 pages of facts about who yields to whom on a hill, how to back up; how to drive in snow and ice, animals on the highway, and braking, passing, railroad crossings and cyclists on the road. I completed ten practice tests and was ready for it to be done.

I arose early one morning to take the final exam. I needed to get 80% of the fifty questions right. If I failed, I could retake the test as many times as I needed to. This was an “open computer” test where I could search for the answers.

I went through the ten question security log-in one last time (the last of 36 times) and began the test at 6:30 a.m. with 210 pages in front of me. By 8:45 a.m. I only had two more questions to answer but had to reply to an email first. Alas, as soon as I opened my email, my computer froze, and I lost the test.

I rebooted my computer and logged in once more, expecting that I could recreate all the answers in a short amount of time. I clicked the button that says, “Take the test,” only to discover an entirely new test. NOOOOOOOOO!

I went out for a run to clear my mind. An hour later, I logged in one more time, found yet another new test, completed it and passed. What did I learn?


  • Despite my tickets, I am deeply grateful for the courage, compassion and skill of our police officers, who protect and keep us safe.
  • It would have been so much easier to take the six-hour class in person.
  • Life isn’t fair.
  • Penance works.
  • If I ever have to take the test again, I will not be a perfectionist. 80% is enough.
  • Driving is a privilege, not a right, and stop means stop.

I pray for the day when every person in our world will live in a country where practicing their own religion is a privilege, a right and a gift. And I pray that when it comes to criticizing, judging and mistreating others, we will remember that Jesus was always clear when stop means stop. But, rejoice! God never issues tickets, just grace. How is grace at work in you?