Understanding Presence

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If words carry the weight of intention and illumination, presence breaks the sound barrier.


Not long ago I had to undergo some surgeries. The doctors wanted to see if they could improve my hearing with repair to my ear canal. The recovery was unbelievably slow. My sister came to stay with me for both surgeries. She accepted no arguments. I didn’t even know she was there, really, or that my niece had tag-teamed with her for a few days. The two surgeries, both failures, occupied an entire year of my life. How deeply I needed the warm touch of friends. How much I needed to know all was going to be right again.

I think it was this experience that has heightened my awareness of presence. Following that experience, I’ve not been able to know someone was in the hospital, having a baby or a health setback, without just showing up.

I’m reminded of the way my aunt and cousin drove 400 miles to be with my family when my Dad passed. Time and again, they have quietly set aside their own lives to be.there. No fanfare. They’re just standing in the doorway every time something major in my life occurs. Over and over and over again. And every single time I think to myself, “They get this. They understand presence.”

We have such ability to change the atmosphere when we enter a room. The Godhead lives inside of us. Wherever we go, we have that choice to usher in love and goodness, kindness and laughter; or we can scowl and bring judgment, create schisms and cliques. I choose love.

I want to be that person. I want to be a person whose presence carries the weight of Heaven, the gentleness of “I get you.” And, “I can’t solve it, but I’m here.”


Hidden Places

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Heron Haven, Omaha
Copyright (c) 2011, Samantha J. Penhale All Rights Reserved

Rest: entered into, permits mystery to unfold.

Discovery releases what was, and reaches for tales untold.

Savoring strands of story, my Spirit-girl grasps, watching and waiting. Next things.

Dancer. Intercessor. Compelled, I spin Spirit’s cocoon. As with wings.

Draw near, whose feathers cover.
Where beneath its pleated places, in sacred moments and spaces
You catch your breath. Angels hover.

Rush a rest: flee Communion.

In Sabbath: Fully rise beneath the mantle that beckons within.
Meted in Glory, man alone cannot withstand its form.
Yet he who finds his name etched into its beams, care-worn;
When in due time, fully unfurled in the Glory of the King,
It is fitted to him as a breastplate, a coat of mail, a signet ring.


The Words of Our Dreams

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I have a twin. Well, we might have been twins. We could have been twins for sure. But she’s always asking the difficult questions. Her favorite, “What would that look like?”

Erin humors me and basically spoils me rotten with affirmation and comforting words while I whine. But, truthfully, when I’m stuck she pulls out the big guns. “How do you see that working out?” she’ll ask. My friend forces me to put legs on my dreams. “Well, it doesn’t actually mean I’m moving to London. But I want this, Erin.” Or, “I guess I need to meet new people, then.”

In order to break out of a stuck place, we have to drag out the box of stripes and pin them on the zebra … to put our dreams into words. It’s scary, and yet beautiful. If ever we’ve been lost in a city or a heavily wooded area, we focus on where we want to be, compared to where we are now. Strategically, tenaciously we take unknown streets and footpaths, bridges and sprinting breathlessly until we find our way.

“What would that look like?”

Words give direction to ethereal ideas. They point to the student visa, or the flights back and forth. They strike a line of demarcation between a Bud Light and a Malbec. A Stilton and <shudder> Velveeta. Even as I suggest this, I can feel you repelling from me. All the disappointment from your last failure. It pulls you deep inside yourself. You go quiet and the moment of transparency is gone.

Another year passes. Maybe two.

I find you sifting through the grad school pamphlets again. Okay, no more pamphlets. But you’re scouring the school websites for the meaning to your life. You’re trying to justify grad school. You don’t justify a dream. You do it because you can taste the Malbec. But it does require that you engage, Sweet Pea.

Yet the potential for failure has never propelled any dream into motion. Most certainly it has snuffed out the smoldering wick of hope that you’ll one day Become.

Samantha your whole face lights up when you get lost in the meaning of words. Friend, your whole face takes on a glow when you talk about planning your next culinary creation. I believe in you. Why don’t you?


Copyright 2014 (c) Samantha J. Penhale All Rights Reserved
Descanso Gardens Tree


Buying the Field

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I’ve a journal in which I record dreams, visions, ideas. Sometimes people will share words or reflect the way my life has influenced them, and I’ll jot those things down and ponder them. I saw an entry that I wanted to share with you.

In July of 2010 I’d had a picture of concentric circles with my heart in the center. The circles around my heart represented things that I owned which were of value to me: my house with a big grassy yard, my Jeep because it reflected the sassiness of my personality; my cat whom I utterly adored; and other luxuries that I was able to afford at the time, like manicures and pedicures, et al. My life as I knew it then felt hollow. I was working insanely hard to maintain a house whose value was in the toilet because of the housing market crash.

After three incredibly long years of waiting for my house to sell, I rented it out, quit my job, and up-ended all my roots and headed for LA. I had a good job here in LA, and an apartment so it wasn’t a complete debacle. On the one hand I knew and understood the cost of my decision and yet, on the other hand, I don’t think I had a clue. How truly that reflects nearly every choice we make!

Through a convoluted twist of circumstances I lost the house through foreclosure. I sold my Jeep and leased a Mini Cooper. My cat died. And a radical cut in salary from Nebraska, plus a sharp increase in the cost of living in LA leaves me at a place where I can honestly say those concentric circles don’t exist anymore.

What does that really mean though?

I can only speak for myself but my journey was about faith, and letting my heart take on something bigger than myself. For most of my life I’ve struggled in my ability to dream. What do I want my life to be about? I can give you some spiritual sounding answers but I can feel God piercing that lack of sincerity in my heart until I begin to own an idea, and let it become my own.

Here’s what the journal entry said:

Concentric circles around my heart. Things I treasure form walls which block the presence of God in my life. I lean on them instead of Him. In order to hear God more fully I lean on the walls to see if there is a door. I step into the creative process and press the story out from within the circles nearest my heart. The Pearl of a great price. Selling everything that I have in order to gain Christ.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” — Matthew 13:44

So often we think of the man in that parable as Christ, and that we are the treasure. And indeed we are His treasure. But we enter into His same joy when we emulate his decision and consider Him to be our treasure. Our dream.

I would never joke about the price I’ve paid to pursue Christ. I would have moved to London, New York or Sydney but He led me here. A seasoned dreamer learns that when Christ is at the center of the dream no cost is too steep.

Dreamer, I encourage you to buy the field.




Joy in the Coming Home

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Fear in the journey,
Joy in the coming home.
A part of the heart
Gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road.

Along the road, your path may wander.
A pilgrim’s faith may fail.
Absence makes the heart grow stronger.
Darkness obscures the trail.

This is an excerpt from a 90’s song called, Along the Road, by Ashton, Becker and Dente.

The rural countryside was like a giant playground to my siblings, our friends and me. Together and alone we walked and rode for miles. We knew every stand of trees and every creek bed, those belonging to our own families as well as neighboring families. Big Al had a natural spring on his property. We often stopped with our bikes to splash a bit before heading home.

Late into the nights my siblings and I would play games like flashlight tag or climb in the rafters of the barns. There were so many places that we kids knew by heart. We hid behind hay bales and played with kittens there. Stacked cord wood served as a post office. We slept under the blanket of the Milky Way and awakened to June bugs crawling over our dew-covered sleeping bags.

We sat in wild blueberry patches and munched berries under the blazing sun. Our parents handed out pails and empty hats in which to collect blackberries beside the road. Adder’s tongue sprouted in the woods by the creek while snow was still on the ground. Morels were ripe for the picking after the frost was gone; Crab apples grew in the orchard and strawberries were ready for jam in late Springtime. Each was a signpost that marked time and place for kids raised on homegrown beauty and imagination.

Even when the compass points to True North, and Truth has been grafted into our hearts, even then we lose our way. We pin our expectations on people around us. We do, and then we vilify them … only to realize the failing is our own. We take risk after risk, like the pioneers we were born to be. Then we are surprised by failure as if expecting a perfect pole vault; our hopes get dashed with every setback. Yet humility, courage and a spirit of overcoming marks the life of a true pioneer.

There’s joy in the coming home.

I can never recreate what home once was but I can be at-home in my heart. I can never confidently climb into the rafters of the barn that has been gone for years. I’m grateful, though, to walk beside courageous people whose roar stretches my capacity to dream. There are people whose inner beauty pierces my heart. They challenge me to love the City more authentically and to embrace nations. To love justice and exhibit mercy.

May your dreams and endeavors reflect the true Beauty to which you are called. May your dear ones bask in your authentic love. May you radiate the King’s heart and purpose.


Shame Meets Justice

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Truthfully, Justice expects his warrior-like ways will win the day,

When in fact his prize retreats with all that fierce bluster and fray.

One shrouded in Shame knows only the shadows and fear.

Unexpectedly Justice kneels and whispers in her ear.

“No longer shall you be bought and sold. I’ll pay your way.”

Slowly she lifts her head and dons garments of Grace and Peace. It’s a new day.

A warrior she shall be.

And she’ll adopt freedom as her cry. You’ll see.

Like the Glory of God, are these great waves of mercy.

Courageous acts of love will cover the earth … as the waters cover the sea.

Vaults of Mysteries: On Hearing Loss

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Have you ever seen one of those star maps they sell here in Hollywood? Supposedly they lead you to the hidden homes of all the A-List Celebrities. A map revealing hidden things … sounds vaguely familiar.

When I think about my life as a person of profound hearing loss, there are vaults of mysteries that I cannot begin to explain. Why does having a disability make a person more compassionate, more demanding, more intense, less secure, more loving, more fragile … than the average bird? I want to shed a bit of insight on the world of the hearing impaired.

Parts of my heart are shattered.

By alone-ness.

I can’t hear.

There are conversations — — where I have no idea what was said. So I walk away without knowing, and without that buzzy feeling like I got to be a part of it. I sometimes leave the conversation angry because I didn’t hear, and I misunderstood (and I don’t realize it yet). Sometimes I’m so busy trying to hear the words that I miss the chance to focus on a person’s heart.

The inability to hear is exhausting.


The pain of failing AGAIN. This day, this conversation, this person. Them misunderstanding me. Or judging me. And they do.

There’s an alone-ness that is a bit like standing on the other side of the glass at the car wash. There’s a whole lot of living going on in there. Intellectually I know that I belong. Parts of my heart can even connect and relax within the realm of the hearing world. But parts of my heart don’t get it.

Ah, you say God can fill that. Yes, He can. Until He does though, millions of people remain misunderstood. They are between the Now and the Not Yet. God is big. And we are small. “His eye is on the sparrow … and I know He watches me.” But we let Him be in charge of the mysteries.

“… the mystery, Christ in you, the hope of Glory.” — Col 1:27

Those who are hearing impaired are incredibly sensitive to the world around them; constantly assessing a room, a situation or a person to determine if they are going to be able to hear. The need to focus on the words being spoken … the right words and the right conversation … affects ones facial expressions. We are focused, and not usually mad or upset. Picture yourself perpetually trying to thread a needle 12 hours a day.

It’s not uncommon for me to reside deep inside myself because hearing requires more effort, more engagement, and I forget to come out and connect with the world. People draw conclusions then too.

Observer: “You’re aloof, Samantha.”

Me: “No, I have a hearing disability, and you don’t comprehend what that means.”

The thing that is the most painful is that a hearing impairment is invisible to the world. A white cane, you’d know there’s a problem. A wheelchair … you wouldn’t expect sprints from the wheeler, barring the spectacular. But there is small grace for hearing loss. May I challenge you today? As you are conversing with people think about whether or not your listener can actually hear you. Don’t throw yourself headlong into the street to protect them from oncoming traffic, just enunciate. 🙂


Ditch the Plates

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20140106_111914_Fotor_FotorRecently I was reminded of wisdom from my friend Julie, “When things are not working in one area of your life just humble yourself with God and let Him sift your heart. Let Him call the shots about where things are out of whack.” Such a relief I felt. I can do that. I can’t fix all the things I’ve broken, but I can repent for the places He shows me, and I can rejoice where He shows me successes.

Lately things are messed up enough that I’ve been content to just look at the messes with Him for a moment. To see things as He sees them.

Others see the outside of us. They perceive that we have our lives together, that we are impenetrable. “What could she possibly need?” The truth is we’re all re-assembling our lives in view of the empty tomb at Calvary. I feel like I’ve been trying (Read: trryyyingg) so hard to keep all the plates spinning. I decided to stop trying. So let the flippin’ plates go. It’s just too much, too confusing. I don’t understand and the pieces seem like they belong to someone else’s puzzle, not mine. Seriously that sky blue piece can’t possibly fit in my puzzle that’s all clouds and stormy weather.

Anyway it turns out when you stop trying there’s some exposure. It resembles the Hoover Dam a bit, unleashed. You didn’t get the job done. You are suddenly not the ideal girlfriend, the most physically fit with the cleanest apartment, the most accomplished. In fact your failures scream at you. Meh. Let it go. Just look for the scarlet cord and take hold of that. The One that matters.

To ask for help It has the fragrance of a rainy day after the sun has come out.

Another friend told me, “Your success at pursuit of the Kingdom is not what is measured. Everything you do, prayerfully intending to obey God will be accounted to you as missional obedience, as righteousness.” — Shun Lee

That statement has changed my life. It’s changed what I do, what I will pursue, and how much of myself I will risk to see Kingdom accomplished.

On Loving Los Angeles and Listening

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I look around. I find myself in the land of Canaan, this Los Angeles-land that the Lord told me to confidently enter and occupy. So many words and promises led me here. It all looks so different now.

When I first got the word to occupy the land, to dwell in it, and cultivate faithfulness, I did not see all the ways that I would fall flat on my face. I couldn’t perceive the way my nose would drill into the ground like some kind of woodpecker because my hands and arms would not once break my fall. Somehow the promise that I would not be hurled headlong remains true. Yet the reality of having taken more than a few social, emotional and financial face plants is no less true.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand. — Psalm 37:23-24

From the outer periphery of the vision and His calling me to LA, I peered in saw nothing but fruit. Promises fulfilled. I was called. I believed I would make a difference. Is Los Angeles more beautiful now that I’ve been here? Does her face seem more washed, her edges a bit more soft and loved? Each of us, called to live here and pour out love, takes a hit for our efforts.

We pay a steep price for love … this beautiful City of Angels.

From the yawning city streets that are still lined with trash, I look upward and wonder. The price I’ve paid for this vision cannot be measured. It has cost me everything. I could decorate my walls with the costly parking tickets I’ve paid.

Here I will dwell.

When God chooses Zion as His dwelling place, He selects the choicest of places. We know that He indeed chooses Israel as a nation and a people group, but specifically He chooses Zion… a place within a place. He also chooses to dwell in the hearts of mankind. Our hearts. The choicest place within our hearts. Not the outer edges. Not the crunchy parts of our hearts but the hidden, lush places … here I will dwell.

I have had the privilege of watching specific third world countries change over the course of time; becoming more civilized, cleaner, healthier, all because people choose to invest in the people and in the land. Love beautifies a heart. Love beautifies nations. Love beautifies Los Angeles.

For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for His habitation.
“This is My resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” — Psalm 132.13-14

He has called me here to shout Love! to Los Angeles. And I have. Her streets have received His love, as I’ve poured it out. There have been days and stretches when I have forgotten to tell her that Father loves her. But simply because I am fully and completely loved, I carry love. I carry transformation and reconciliation on my shoulders just as the priests of old carried the ark of the Covenant on their shoulders.

It is our privilege to partner with God to love specific people, cities, nations, knowing full-well that we are not alone. Others walk beside us pouring out their love, investing their talents and and letting their laughter ring in the streets. We don’t always get to see the full transformation of a land. With the new year I open myself quietly to hear His voice, reiterating the words He has spoken or to hear a new direction. Each of us has long since released our control over the how, why, and where of His calling. We have already paid the price … love always costs us everything.

And so it is with the the Zion of our hearts we listen. Where to dwell? Whom shall we love?

The results are not up to us and I’m not measured by my results.

I’m measured by the intentions of my heart.

Musings on Data Security

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I’m inspired… I just read an article about online privacy by and felt it was worthy of a posted response. With nearly 20 years experience in working with data and databases, I’ve had many opportunities to work with your personal data. Really! Read on…

I’ve worked all over the country, and with data generated from all over the world. Countless databases containing personal data have existed for decades, both in local, state and federal government as well as in the private sector. That means that from the time computers were used to collect even simple data for voters, Sears repairs, doctor’s visits, personal data has accrued for years. Even long after you’ve forgotten about it, your address, credit card, SSN data all sat in unsecured databases. Most were of crude design at first, database developers all cringe at this point because we’ve all spent loads of hours redesigning and securing these same repositories while clients and constituents remained blissfully unaware that their voter records were captured in MS Access. Or their DMV data was captured in Excel. Hey! It was automated. .. so much better than the shoeboxes of client data that was stored under desks. (Oh yes. And you thought consulting was a glamorous job.)

The beauty of it is that probably the only data element you’re still using is your social security number. You moved. The credit card number was replaced. You’ve had 16 phone numbers since you lived in Boise anyway. But believe me, if you call the County they’ll still have the data they collected in 1987… but they transferred all their access databases to secured databases within the last 5-10 years. Guaranteed.

From approximately 1990 through year 2000 or later, it was common practice, world-over, for techies to take entire databases home from work, simply because they contained the structure and test data needed to do database design work. That means that personal data was at risk to be stolen, misused or sold.

Y2K initiated an era of staring at all this data we were collecting. With it we began to make more decisions than just how many characters a YYYY field should contain.

It’s only recently that laptops are encrypted, and we’re so glad they are!

It’s only in the past 5-10 years that standards have been established to make personal data secure. SSN numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, and key data identifiers like birth data, etc. never used to be discreet to a data entry screen let alone captured on a secured website. Health information data was shared with whomever made an inquiry. Both the medical and IT industries have made enormous headway in securing data transmission.

It’s important to understand that your personal data is much less secure than you’d ever believe. It does pay to be careful but don’t bother handing your credit card to a wait staff, paying at a drive-through, or paying at the pump if you aim to be risk-free.

What is recent development in terms of online privacy is your own ability to post personal status and preferences, e.g. Pinterest and Facebook. With every post that you like or pin you’re exposing yourself to the world as to your preferences. This begs the questions, “Who cares and how much do they care?” and “How and what can they do with that data?”

Data Analytics is a fascinating aspect of the Big Data industry. It requires enormous data center operations to grind through social media data, on the scale of Google and Facebook. Analytics themselves are not intended to drill into one person’s data though they could. It leans toward conspiracy theory to believe that someone would want to isolate your choices and curtail your activities based on your social media data…. if you’re a pretty normal person posting normal things, and steer clear of crimes and such.

It would be much more likely for someone, a little-known Facebook friend for example, to develop an interest in your posts, collect them and use it to support a theory they hold about you. Note to self: choose your friends wisely.

Google Now is one positive employment of Google Analytics. I’m still not sure how much I enjoy having compiled information served up to me on my cell phone, for example the commute time to my workplace, my three appointments and the drive time required for those. A tiny bit creepy but I’m giving it a chance for a while.

Facebook ads and suggestions are sort of the necessary evil of co-existing with Facebook. There’s a limit to the power of analytics however. Analytics are intended to, er, analyze and suggest opportunities. Think: if anything Analytics are intended to make money but they only make money if you respond to one of their suggestions. If you think about it, the same suggestions are made for the person who supplies only basic demographics as the one who who posts regularly. (Analytics looks for trends so stop posting about your burnt evening meals and they’ll stop suggesting Cordon Bleu culinary school, eh?)

Professionals who have posted photos of their portfolio have exposed themselves to the possibility of one of these search engines discovering and using the photos. Those would need to be removed in order to mitigate that risk. But understand that the mistake was made in posting them not in the power of Analytics. What is a search engine going to do with photos you have posted? Attribute credit to someone else? Hardly. Your mother-in-law could more easily do that via Facebook … if they’re really of value.

Simply keep your snapshots in Instagram. Keep your Facebook posts on the charming side, and keep your tweets less than 140 characters and you’re set! Rest well; you’re not a candidate for sabotage, conspiracy theory or not.