Healing

This story strikes me every time I read it:

“They came to Jericho.  As Jesus, his disciples, and a substantial crowd were leaving the town, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road.  When he heard it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out, “Son of David!  Jesus!  Take pity on me!”

Lots of people told him crossly to be quiet.  But he shouted out all the louder, “Son of David–take pity on me!”

Jesus came to a stop.  “Call him,” he said.

So they called the blind man.

“Cheer up,” they said, “and get up.  He’s calling you.”

He flung his cloak aside, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

Jesus saw him coming.  “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Teacher,” the blind man said, “let me see again.”

“Off you go,” said Jesus.  “Your faith has saved you.”  And immediately he saw again, and followed him on the way.”

Mark 10:46-52 (The Kingdom New Testament)

There is just so much about this story that captures my attention and makes me wonder. I begin to wonder, what part of me, deep down is this blind beggar Bartimaeus, shouting out for Jesus to heal me?  And what parts of me are telling it to be quiet and to stop bothering him?  Where do I need to allow myself to just keep shouting because I am in such desperate need to see again in my life and be healed?  And then I wonder, if Jesus were standing here, right in front of me, face to face and asked me what he wanted me to do, what would I ask for?  It causes me to search for that deep, vulnerable place inside.

I remember back, years ago to reading a little book called, “Surrender to Love,” by David Benner.  The second chapter is all about love and fear.  As I was reading it struck a nerve inside of me.  There was some fear inside of me that needed to be surrendered, a place inside that was calling out to be healed but was being hushed.  I quieted my self and began to search for that piece of me.  She was sitting quietly behind a tree I remember and Jesus called for her to come out.  He asked what she wanted and she shared her deepest fear and that she wanted to be healed.  A wave of emotion came over me that I was not anticipating.  I had been holding onto it for so very long and hushed it down that I wasn’t even aware of it anymore, but when I surrendered to Love, when I answered his question, he saw my faith and he healed me.

That was almost nine years ago and I still hold that memory so vividly in my mind and in my heart and I was reminded of it today when I read this passage in Mark.  Perhaps it is time to quiet my self again and let Jesus go on a search to restore me.

God Promptings

Do you ever feel prompted by God to do something and yet you hesitate before you act?  I’ll get these thoughts that pop into my head that seem so crazy to myself that I can only imagine that they’ve come from a prompting of the Spirit.  Usually, my immediate response is no way am I going to do that.  It would be out of the ordinary and awkward.  How would the other person feel?

But then I start thinking, well was that of God?  And if it was shouldn’t I respond immediately in obedience no matter how it makes me feel and how I think the other person will feel?  Obedience to God should be immediate and is a sign of our love for him (John 14:23).  Maybe it’s a sign too of my transformation into the person I should be not the person I already am who’s first thought is one of selfishness.

I remember one time when I acted on one of these promptings.  I was driving my son to preschool and we had had a big snow a couple of days before.  Snow was piled up high everywhere, especially the sidewalks that were public domain and had not been attended to yet.  There were a few families in my son’s class that lived in the apartment buildings down the street.  They had immigrated here from India and the wives did not drive, so every school day they loaded their kids in strollers and walked the mile or so down a busy street to get their children there.

On this day with all the snow, I drove by and saw one mom struggling to get her, her daughter and their stroller down the road.  Because the snow had not been completely cleared she was going to have to walk on the busy street in portions.  As I drove on it was clear that her journey was going to be no easier up ahead.  Immediately a thought popped into my head, you pick them up.

Well, then the excuses started.  “I only have a small car and no extra car seat.”  Easy, drop off your son and then go back for them.  They’ll still be there struggling away.  “Hmm, well, is that culturally ok, what will this woman from India, who barely knows English think of my gesture and will this all just be too awkward for her?”  Don’t answer for someone else, just offer and let her decide.

My excuses ran out and I realized that I needed to just act.  God didn’t care what the other person’s response was, he cared what my response was, and it needed to be one of obedience.  After I dropped my son off I told myself that if I saw them still along the road, I would stop.  It didn’t take long down the road to see them, this time on the opposite side of the road still trying slowly to make their way.

Well I pulled over, it was easier now since they had crossed the road, and I got out of my car.  “Could I offer you a ride the rest of the way to school?  Your daughter could sit in my son’s car seat who I already dropped off and we could put your stroller in the trunk?”  Her immediate response, “Oh yes, thank you so much!”

After we loaded back into the car she said that if the sidewalk didn’t clear up soon she was going to just turn around and go home, she didn’t know what else to do.  So much gratefulness and relief poured out from her.  Later, on my return to the school for pick up, I was devising a plan on how to get her and her daughter home and my family as well.  When I arrived she said how grateful she was and that she had already called a taxi to pick them up and take them home.

That day I couldn’t believe how much my actions made such a difference, not just for them, but for me as well.  I had finally listened to some hair brain request in my head and didn’t talk myself out of it.  I really felt overjoyed at first, excitement bursting out of me after I had dropped them off.  And then I was humbled.  How many times had I robbed myself of this joy by not acting immediately?  What was God trying to do in me and through me that I was preventing and blocking?

I’m still met with these prompts to take action from time to time.  I wish I could say that I’m quick to always act but I’m not.  The excuses still flow out first and most of the time they are speaking louder than the voice that says go and do, don’t be afraid.  I keep the story of the woman and her daughter that wouldn’t have gone to school that day if I hadn’t acted in my heart though and sometimes that memory is louder than the excuses.  I remember the difference it made in their life that day, and who knows how many days after that, and I think about the difference I could make at this moment too if I only let God use me, instead of shrinking back.  What joy and gratefulness could be felt by all?

 

Second Conversion

So here’s a question, is there such a thing as a second conversion?  I’m not talking about being worried that your first one didn’t count, so you keep getting up for every altar call you hear.  I’m talking about that feeling of being wholly and deeply loved by God and giving your whole self over to him.  Maybe conversion isn’t the right word, but there is something new stirring in my heart that needs some words to understand it.

I remember the first time I heard God loved me, just as I was and wanted to spend eternity with me, starting that day and forevermore.  I remember feeling awash with gratitude, humility, forgiveness and love, such pure love.  I gave my life wholeheartedly as I could at that moment over to him, vowing to live my days following after him.  My devotion was strong and pure and what it could be at that moment.

In the years since then, I have been true to my promise to love and serve.  I learned of God’s great story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration and have done what I can to live into it and spread it to everyone I know.  I joined God in his redemptive work in this world and served out of a place of love.  I genuinely believe God has been pleased and gracious to me to this point.

But if I’m being honest it’s not been all sunshine and rainbows.  We all know that sin mars our world, ourselves and our motivations.  Sometimes I served out of guilt or obligation.  Sometimes I was motivated out of pride.  It’s just how it is.  But along the way I’ve been realizing more and more, it’s because there is still a stronghold in my life where sin rules in my heart.  I’m becoming more aware of my shadow self that is holding on to dear life, not wanting to die on the altar of sacrifice so that my true self, that person I am meant to become in Christ can shine through.

God’s had me on this quest for almost a year now, slowly pulling back the curtain on what’s been hidden and shining his light on the dark parts and lies that I live in.  That’s really hard to say, friends, that I still operate out of the sinful side of myself that up until this point I’ve been unconscious of.  Through God’s grace, he is taking me one step deeper and revealing things to me that I need to be aware of now, at this moment, to heal from if I’m going to move forward into the person I’m meant to become.

It hit me this past weekend when I was attending a conference.  We sang this song, Reckless Love, by Cory Asbury and published by Bethel Music.  Have you heard it?  The chorus goes like this;

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights till I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine

I couldn’t earn it, and I don’t deserve it, still, You give yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

There’s that phrase, right in the middle, “fights till I’m found,” that just wouldn’t leave me as we sang the chorus over and over again.  It began to hit me, God is not done fighting for me yet because I’m not completely found yet.  I had this image in my head that yes, God left the ninety-nine and came out and found me one day all those years ago when I dedicated my life to him, but since, I’ve been safe in the fold, he’s had no need to have concern or special attention over me.  Yes, he’s been loving me, setting me to work, transforming me but it’s an afterthought to all those that he’s still desperately in search of for the first time.

In these last days I’m beginning to wonder if no, God is not done fighting for me.  He’s still “kicking down doors” as the bridge of the song says because there’s still “lies for him to tear down,” and “shadows to light up,” in my life and he’s in hot pursuit with this relentless and reckless unceasing love.  I’ve been so overtaken by the magnitude and the passion that God still has for me today and will continue to have for me every day until I’m not just restored to the fold, but until I’m transformed into the likeness of Christ, the uniqueness, and beauty of what I’m created for.

It’s in realizing this overwhelming love that gives me the courage to keep going.  To not be afraid of the lies and shadows because God’s love is big enough to fight them and to heal me.  He’s never going to abandon me.  No, on the contrary, he’s been kind to me, as the song says, because he’s fighting for the piece of me that is scared, the part that he formed and breathed his life into, so that I can have the breath of life, to glorify him all the days of my life.  It’s been coming to this realization in a whole new light that makes it feel like another conversion all over again.  And so I’m giving over more of myself to God, the parts that I’m just coming to a realization about and dedicating all of me once again to him.

 

 

Questions

A friend came to me and trusted me with her story yesterday.  Is there anything more sacred than being trusted with someone’s story?  She’s facing a lot of questions in her life right now and is searching for answers.  She said she was worried to come to me, that she might offend me with her questions.  Offend me?  When did we begin to tell people that the church (meaning the body of Christ, not the building) was not a safe place to ask questions?

One of my early memories of the church was asking a question.  The pastor had come to our Sunday School class and said we could write down any question we had on a piece of paper for him to answer.  I had a lot of questions.  It’s just in my nature.  I wanted to know did God create dinosaurs and if so, why weren’t they talked about in our Bible lessons?  The Sunday morning had arrived and the pastor was reading the questions from the pulpit in front of the whole congregation.  I remember when he asked my question and I remember everyone in the room laughing.  No answer, just laughter.

I was so embarrassed.  Now looking back as an adult I imagine they were laughing at the “cuteness” or naivete of my question, but as that child, in that room, I felt nothing but smallness and shame.  I learned that church was not a safe place to ask questions and so I don’t remember asking another question again for quite some time.  Different from my friend, I wasn’t afraid of offending another with my questions, but I was afraid of being offended by others if I asked a question.

That early childhood experience shaped me (like they all do) to create space in my life where questions would be welcome and where they could flourish.  Once my questions started, you just couldn’t stop me and I searched and searched for answers. But at some point along the journey, I was confident that my all my questions were answered.  And maybe that’s where part of this hang-up amongst some of us in the church starts with welcoming questions.  We think our questions are answered so why should anyone else continue to have them?

It’s like there’s this standard set of questions, where do we come from, where do we go when we die, etc. and once those are answered then we’ve “arrived”.  It’s a stage we all go through as I said earlier (Life is Messy) but why does it close us off to more questions?  And why does it close us off from accepting other’s questions with open arms and open minds?

I had my questions answered but I kept meeting more people along life’s journey that had different questions.  They either weren’t satisfied with the answers they were receiving or their questions just kept going a step deeper and a step deeper.  I realized my space for questions just needed to get bigger for others.  And then as life got messier and messier, my own answers weren’t enough anymore.  As I offered more space for other’s questions, I had to allow more space in my own life again for questions.  My preconceived notions from before told me at first my questions weren’t welcome and I had to come to a realization that I had become what I didn’t want.

I’m asking questions again, almost daily lately.  This time around I’m not seeking answers though.  The questions are enough to drive me deeper into trusting God more and believing that in the end he’s got the whole thing figured out.  My questions bring hope, not my answers.  I was reading the wisdom of Sally Llyod-Jones with my son and she reminded us all that hope is not something we wish will happen, Biblical wisdom is something we know will happen.  May we all feel the safety to ask questions and to be a safe place to receive others questions, not to always provide them answers but to always remind us that we can stand on hope.

Life is Messy

I remember a time in my life when everything had a place.  Neat, tidy and organized.  My husband and I struggled to fill up our home, with blank spaces and unused corners abounding.  Now, just eight short years later and filled with three more people we are simply living on top of each other.  Piles accumulate, the living room seems to always be eschewed, and no one dares walk around barefoot less you have week old crumbs and who knows what else embedded on the soles of your feet.

At first, I remember fighting against the encroaching piles.  As soon as the accumulation started I would feel my anxiety rise and quickly try to put everything back in its place.  But with each subsequent child life just got messier and there never seemed a chance to get ahead, much less quickly behind what life had to throw at me.  I read books, I devised new strategies, I declared us minimalists and started throwing and giving everything away that wasn’t nailed down.  Each attempt lasted for a bit but I eventually had to decide, would I let the anxiety and illusion of control rule my life, or would I accept the times I’m given, and sit in this mess?

Of course, this literal mess of stuff in my home is also a metaphor for the mess that is living life.  It was easier earlier in life to have all the answers to everything.  I remember going off to college and meeting captivating leaders and teachers who taught be so much about life.  I soaked up every book, every conversation, every talk.  I filed it all away into neat little piles and drawers and boxes.  Every time a question arose, oh let me just look back into my storehouse I’m accumulating and whip out the right answer, because you know I thought every answer I had was the right one.  My feet were planted on solid rock and I thought I was set for life.

And there’s nothing wrong with being so assured of our faith, of our knowledge or our life.  It gives us the confidence to go out and do the work we’ve been given, to believe we can make a difference and we do.  We impart a change in people’s lives for the greater good and we can partner with God and have him use us to build his kingdom here.  But pride can happen so easily at this point too.  I believed that if people would just read the right book, use the right lens to look at life and the Bible and God then they could have all the right answers too and life would be organized in a neat little bow for everyone.

But then life gets messy and suddenly the right answers don’t seem right anymore.  That storehouse in my brain doesn’t have a file to explain away the mess and then what seemed so sure before becomes questions and doubts.  If I can’t answer this one question, can I answer any question?  Does it all sound like pat answers unable to deal with the brokenness of this world?

Ahh, the crisis of life and of faith that we don’t talk about in church.  I feel that there is a deception that goes on in the modern church of today that to have true faith you must be “passionate” for Jesus and “on fire” all the time for him.  When life’s mess does come around you pray it away with your soul in tune with God and flip to the all the right verses in the Bible to assure you of that smile on your face.  But when I tried to find the verses to keep that smile and that fire going I found mess, real mess and read it with new eyes because I was sitting in my own mess for the first time.

Here’s what I learned as I read of the crises of faith in the Bible that I found, they didn’t all have to end there.  On the outside to others, it looks like we’re losing our faith and falling away.  Heck on the inside it feels like we’re losing our faith and falling apart.  And for some they do.  In the end, Judas hung himself and his story ended there for us.  But Peter got to move through the crisis and he realized that the solid rock he thought was dying and crumbling away was still there but the answers from before took on new meaning and transformation. Jesus reinstated him giving him a stronger hope with a renewed faith and he went and built the church.

The winter seasons of our faith can feel long and unsettling.  Doubt can attempt to undo all the glory and wonder of earlier stages of faith.  But here’s the truth it can’t undo it, but it can transform it.  God is in the business of redemption and he is big enough to handle anything and everything.  Life’s messes come along to remind us that we aren’t in control and that there is more than one way to live this life.  It’s not always going to fit into neat little piles.  We claim to love an all-powerful God but then too easily put him in a box.  I think the messes of life come to throw us out of our boxes and into the all-encompassing love of God.

I’m learning to accept the mess of my living room, and dining room, and kitchen, and every other room in my house.  The mess doesn’t define me or my family.  It’s just there and it’s a part of our lives.  It proves that we’re alive and that we’re having fun and living one moment into the next.  I’m learning to look beyond the mess into life and remember that our family is built on a foundation of love that will get through any mess life happens to throw our way.

Connection

We’ve all been created to connect.  There’s something innate that cries out for someone or something to notice the “me” that is inside.  There is this small yet monumental event that happened somewhere around the beginning of time that we’ve now since deemed, “The Fall.”  So much was lost in that one moment, more than I think we’ll realize but subconsciously we long for full restoration all our days on this side of heaven.  Some have widdled this loss down to just our human connection to God (“Then they heard the sound of the LORD God and hid…” Genesis 3:8) but several relationships were broken.

Do you ever wonder why we can’t all just get along?  The blame game started that day between humans (“The woman you put here with me…” Genesis 3:12).  Why is there disease and defect, why do we labor tirelessly in our work only to be frustrated with the meager results?  Our relationship with creation broke down too (“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil, you will eat of it…It will produce thorns and thistles for you…” Genesis 3:17-18).  And then the relationship that gets forgotten most of all I’ve found.  Do you ever wonder why you just don’t feel like yourself so many days, why you’re constantly looking around for what can define you and why you strive for authenticity and vulnerability but it just feels too painful to be so real, even with yourself?  Our relationship with our own self was broken that day (“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Genesis 3:7).

Oh, so sad friends.  What we lost that day in the Garden was our very self.  The harmony, the peace, the shalom that we were created for, now fragmented and we now set about the task of putting the pieces back together again.  But how do we put something back together if we aren’t even aware of it in the first place?  I think the numbness and the ignorance of it all is satan’s way of trapping us in our fig leaves, hidden behind the bushes, blaming each other as we toil on day after day.

But then one day, unexpectedly a connection is made, one of these relationships gets a foretaste of restoration and we suddenly realize, maybe that’s what I was made for?  What does that foretaste drive us towards?  Do we tentatively decide to step out from behind the bush again and let down the lies that have been trapping us and telling us that’s who you are when really it was just a mask, a false self parading around for us?

I’ve been living in the tension lately of wanting to step out more.  Last fall I got so tired of my parade and my mask that one day in the garden with God I declared that I wanted to know the real me, the true me.  In that moment I felt a release of weight like a burden I had been carrying around was lifted, but I felt fear in the next breath.  What if the real me is someone I don’t recognize, nor any of the other people around me?  What if I’m left starting all over again in life?  What if I did get to start all over again?

Just changing the words slightly there made the desire to change stronger than fear that was trying to hold me back.  And so the quest begins, but as I’ve been learning it’s not an easy one.  Years of believing that life will only turn out one-way need to be reconditioned and reformed.  You can’t believe lies for so long without some pain and bitterness thrown in there as well to work through.  I realized that in my 20’s I knew that pain was there but it was easier to ignore and just keep trying but now in my 30’s I realize the pain isn’t going anywhere and the desire for a new life is stronger than the fear of going through the hurt again.  You see I’m accepting that after the Fall, suffering is inevitable, but only by walking through the pain, letting our old self die on that cross, can the stone be rolled away and a new self, a new life becomes our reality.  It is the path that Jesus modeled for us and told us would be necessary if we wanted to come after him.  It’s that promise and hope that makes me summon the courage to step into the fear instead of running from it.

On this journey, all relationships will be restored and will be necessary for true connection to be made.  Every time I want to give up and retreat back into my hiddeness I  summon up that courage to reach out and say will you join me?  Will you accept the broken me and journey with me because I can’t do this alone, I wasn’t made to do this alone.

I just reconnected with a dear sweet friend that moved away almost two years ago now.  This was the kind of friend that saw my false self, my junk and loved me in spite of it because she also saw my true self and loved me.  Friends like that are important.  They reassure us that we can do this, they provide the safe space to pull of our “fig leaves” if you will and let ourselves see our own true selves, sometimes for the first time.  Friendships that put aside and forgive through the blame so that vulnerability can be the focus are essential if we want to restore this earth as it is in heaven.  It will take awareness, it will take courage, it will take love to find the connection we were all made for.

(For further reading on this false self/true self concept I discussed, I would recommend Richard Rohr’s, “Immortal Diamond”)

Fighting Injustice

 

I have always been in awe of the Civil Rights leaders conviction, bravery and the ability to not stand idly by but to work boldly to confront and fight injustice.  Their story is one that I want to know better and one that I want to pass down to my children to awaken them to the realization that injustice exists in this world and to inspire them to do something about it.  I’ve read these stories, I’ve heard accounts of these stories from afar but this year I wanted to begin to live one of these stories.

Leading up to Martin Luther King Jr Day, a few weeks back, I became aware of a march happening not too far from my home.  A march for peace and justice through the streets and I decided this was the year I wanted to walk too and bring my children along for the ride.  That morning we read books about MLK Jr, his life, his fight, and the marches he participated in.  I shared with my kids that we would do the same, we would walk to say that we saw that injustice existed and that we were not okay with it.

In my head, I knew our half a mile walk would be nothing like the ones of civil right leaders that came before us.  No one would be yelling at us, throwing things at us, there would be no dogs or police with fire hoses.  This would be easy and safe but it would lead to an awareness on the outside and on the inside I hoped. But as the time grew closer I tried to talk myself out of going with the kids; could they walk that long, would it inhibit my littlest one’s nap, what if something did happen like those days gone before?  But then my conviction began to take root and I told myself oppressed people don’t get to have a choice about whether they are oppressed or not.  They can’t decide what might be too hard for their kids that day or live in the luxury of a nap schedule.  If they don’t get to decide then neither do we.  We march because they have to every day.

My own selfishness got reflected back to me a short time later when my oldest son voiced out loud the conversation I was having in my heart, he didn’t really feel like going he told me.  I looked him right in the eye and told him what I told myself, oppressed people don’t have a choice whether they are oppressed or not.  I asked him, did African men and women get the choice about whether they wanted to be slaves?  No, they didn’t and now they are still fighting for the rights that were taken away from them.  They didn’t get a choice so neither do we.  We march.

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I still can’t quite get the words to describe the march itself.  I learned once we were on the walk the route we would be taking was through a neighborhood that was given to and established by freed slaves after their emancipation following the Civil War.  It was a neighborhood that I had driven past dozens of times but didn’t know it’s significance.  Emotion washed over me as we marched and chanted and sang, the elderly neighbors coming out to wave us on.  I didn’t feel worthy of what was going on around me.  I felt that I was walking on hallowed ground, in a hallowed time.

I still don’t feel worthy to be invited to participate in that day.  To sing words of, “we will overcome,” what did I have to overcome?  My life has been easy when I compare it to others, and all because of when I was born, where I was born, to whom I was born to.  Things that I didn’t even have a say over automatically make me one of the privileged few.  Makes my kids one of the privileged few.  But I can still say it’s not okay.  Instead of living each day in a selfish bubble, either ignorant of the plight of my neighbor or worse yet, indifferent to it, I can say it’s not okay.  And I can teach my kids that it’s not okay.

My inner critic is never okay with just that of course and God and I began a conversation on the days after the march.  I wondered if reading books and participating in this march were enough, what else could I do in a tangible way that broke down injustice and brought up the life of my brother and sister?  And then God illuminated my heart to an awareness of how I was already doing that, each day in my home.

During this same time, we were having one of our bathrooms renovated.  The men working on the bathroom were Hispanic and we sometimes had a language barrier between us.  I made a conscious decision in my heart years ago that no matter who walked into my home they would always be treated with respect and dignity despite the barriers that existed between us outside my house.  We invited these men in and asked them to feel like they were at home.

Two days after the march, I finally realized that they had been eating their lunches out in the cold in their trucks.  This was not acceptable and so I insisted they come and eat at our table with us.  I didn’t realize in the moment the significance of asking these gentlemen to come and sit and break bread with me but I left the lunch changed because it was more than just a meal shared, it was lives shared.  Through a few simple questions, I learned their stories, of traveling to America with a hope of a better life.  I learned what my books and movies couldn’t teach me about what life is really like for them in their home countries and why the struggle of moving somewhere they didn’t know the language or the customs would be worth the sacrifice for the life they have today.  I felt that I was on hallowed ground in that moment again.

Afterwards, I realized we don’t always have to go out somewhere else to fight injustice.  Injustice is in our homes and our neighborhoods.  We can choose to buy a different way, think a different way and I realize now, to treat every person we come in contact with respect and dignity and to say that their life matters just as much as mine does through my actions and my words.  We can learn each other’s stories and connect ourselves together so that together we might overcome.

 

Imagination

At the end of the fall, my family and I took a much-needed break and retreated to the beach for a couple of days.  After a long summer with no respite from our normal routine, and then immediately rolling into the rigors of fall, we were all weary and looking for some rest.  This first year of grief has found me shying away from large crowds of people and the beach at the end of October is the perfect place to go if you are in search of a quiet, deserted retreat.  I think the whole three days we were there I saw only five people on the beach.  It was glorious!

I love the quiet pace of life at the beach because it always affords me time and space to steal away by myself and meet with God.  Our annual escape to the seaside puts me in a posture to listen and hear things about myself and my life that the noise of everyday life chokes out.  This year was no different as I would wake up early each morning before my husband and kids, slip into a cozy sweatshirt and sneakers and sneak out the door before I could disturb anyone.  I would sit on the sand and wait, listening, watching, wondering where God would show up and how I would meet him.

The first morning I decided to start taking a walk in search of the sunrise.  It was a gray, cloudy day but I was hoping that the sun would break through.  The farther I walked though, all I was met with was rolling, billowing clouds.  Then something said, turn around and this is what I was saw.

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I immediately turned around, a wide grin plastered on my face and my heart racing in sight of such beauty.  I was like a moth drawn to light as I eagerly walked down the beach in pursuit of that break in the gray and that sunlight pouring out.  As my feet began to walk, my mind began to meander as well, as my imagination took hold of me and I began to wonder, what’s happening beyond that spot in the clouds?  If I could peek around the corner, what would I see and hear?  You see, my imagination and creative pursuits was a new form of spiritual discipline in my life and I was beginning to fan the flame of my encounter with God.

At the end of 2016, I felt in my heart of hearts that God was telling me to start writing.  I found this odd as writing for pleasure was something foreign to me.  I wrote back in my school days because I had to and I kept a prayer journal off and on over the years but I never wrote as a means of communicating and publishing.  I did, however, love to teach and saw my platform as a verbal, real-life exchange with my audience.  There were times in my past when I’d need to write a letter or some other document and was told that I had a way with words but I never thought much of it.  I had considered for many years taking thoughts in my head and starting a blog but lacked the motivation and confidence to pursue it.

Something was different inside me this time I heard God speak though and I decided what would it hurt to try and so I started to write.  And the more I wrote, the more ideas kept coming to me.  It was so strange to me.  I saw writing as something creative people did and I never really felt very creative in my life, but I knew I didn’t want to stop.  I had heard once before that to become a better writer one needed to become a better reader so I began to read anything and everything that drew my fancy.  It started with books about learning more about God but eventually took a turn into classic fiction books as well as I soaked up the imagery and storylines to find connections in my own life.  Each book I read and each piece I wrote felt like I was transforming more and more into the person I was meant to become, my true self and that I was understanding things about God I had never comprehended before.

I had a few trusted friends that began to walk on this journey with me to encourage me and offer me guidance.  One friend shared a book with me that was challenging her and told me to get a copy for myself.  The book was, “Waking Up Grey,” by Jennie Schut and has become a field book of sorts to me on this journey.  The summed up premise of the book is that our creativity is a deeply spiritual matter.  That if we find ourselves in a creative slump than we find ourselves also in a relationship stump with God and vice versa.  We are all image bearers of God and he is the most creative being ever.  To deny our creativity is to deny part our very being that connects us to God and breathes life into our lungs.  I had already begun pursuing these thoughts on my own and upon reading Jennie’s words it was like scales falling from my eyes.

The reason I was finding myself and God more and more as I pursued reading and writing was that I was finally tapping into the creativity that I was hardwired for but had mostly been denying and shutting off most of my life.  As I tapped into it I found myself becoming fully alive and I didn’t want it to stop.  I started getting art books out of the library and found myself drawn to the Impressionist time period.  I would spend quiet afternoons outside after I got my kids settled for their naps and quiet times, soaking in the sunshine and these beautiful works of art.  I was reading classic fiction books that had always been on my “to read someday” list that lead to new authors and new books.  I took in poetry and music of all varieties.  I also discovered what I have deemed my “Garden of Eden” a private park near my home where I would go with my books and my journals and my ears attentively listening as I would walk with God in the cool of the day.  The more I fanned my creativity the more I wanted to soak in more and more.  It was like I was waking up the grey parts of my life, just as my new field book was entitled.

It was in the middle of all this that I found myself on the beach that morning with that sunrise.  Before I would have just looked at it and thought how beautiful it was and maybe it would take my breath away but this time I let it take me one step further and I began to imagine.  I was currently reading the time quintet by the fabulous Madeleine L’Engle and I just couldn’t help myself from thinking otherworldly images.  As I “peeked” behind the clouds I imagined this throng of cheribum singing and swaying as one.  Later I wrote in my journal, “With bated breath and flutter of heart you anticipate with excitement what you might find in this gateway to beyond.  It’s the heavenly host, all come out to rejoice.  They are dancing in the beautiful dance, flowing in rhythm and time to the beat of the Creator.  Their arms flow, their hips twist, their feet delicately prance back and forth in a giant circle.  Their movements create almost waves of light streaking across the atmosphere.  Their eyes closed, they don’t need to see, they simply can feel.  Joy has filled this place and your heart.”  And then all I could do on that deserted beach in that moment was sing, loud and clear;

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above thee, heavenly host.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

The words just flowed from me, and so did the tears.  I met God their that morning because I was finally unafraid to tap into my creative self and let my imagination run wild, straight into the arms of my Beloved.

 

Christmas Ponderings

Star-of-Bethlehem

So this is what I’ve been pondering this Christmas season.  My understanding of Jesus’ times on earth was that life revolved around the family, the extended family.  Everyone lived close by, aunts, uncles, cousins, generations all together.  The family took care of one another.

My other observation as I read the Christmas account was that all people had to travel to their father’s birthplace to counted for the census.  Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Joseph was from the family line of David.  So here’s where my pondering starts, didn’t everyone from Joseph’s family line travel to Bethlehem too?

In all the retellings of this story Mary and Joseph are always traveling the long road to Bethlehem by themselves, all out there alone for the thousands of miles trek.  But I’m wondering if they were really alone?  What about the extended family, the in-laws, aunts, uncles, and cousins that would have been traveling too?  Wouldn’t they have been all together?

Then they actually make it to Bethlehem and there’s no room for them to stay because of the thousands of out of town folks also there for the census.  Again, the pictures all show Joseph and Mary knocking door to door by themselves.  After they find the stable to stay in, Mary gives birth by herself with only her husband and the animals present.

Here’s where I’ve been wondering more again.  My understanding of Jewish custom was that males would not have been present for birthing for fear of making themselves unclean.  Birthing was woman’s work and the new mother would have been surrounded by all those extended female family members to be with her, coaching and attending to her every need.  I’m speculating here again but I’m beginning to wonder if Joseph wasn’t really there for this holy night, or at least not right there beside his wife and that they weren’t just left off on their own but were surrounded by the love of community and family to welcome their holy child.

How much of our understanding of the Christmas story has been shaped by our culture today and our lack of knowledge and understanding of the culture then?  (Even my own ponderings above are probably skewed because of the lenses I looked through).  The Scripture passages that give us an account of the story don’t give many details and where there is ambiguity we’ve painted our own details.  I’ve noticed this specifically in all the children’s book retellings.  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have a smile on their face.  The stable is tidy and the animals are silently looking on.  It all has a rosy glow to it.  I’ve given birth three times, nothing about it is tidy and glowing.  Though I believe if need be my husband and I alone could have gotten the job done, I know we’re both thankful for the team, the community around us that helped us usher in our children to the world.

How much of a disservice do we do ourselves and the world by making God’s coming to the world look so unnatural?  Granted God coming down to be with us is quite extraordinary but by making it something uncommon to how we live our everyday lives we make God someone we hold at a distance from the very beginning of his coming.  Part of God’s goal was to make himself like one of us so we could know deep within us that he understood who we are and what we face because he faced the same during his time on earth.  If his birth was different than ours than that sets us up to believe that his whole time on earth was always more divine than human and therefore unrelatable.  We would always keep God at a distance when the gift of Christmas is that we can bring God close because he had come close.

I have always been drawn to the humanness of Jesus.  God tangibly in a form here on Earth makes me feel at peace.  I imagine him as a child, learning to walk and stumbling and falling down, and later when he’s older playing with his friends.  I imagine him growing into a teenager faced with possibilities of growing up, taking up his father’s trade, what thoughts ran through his mind?  When he walked and worked in the hot sun he got stinky, he felt hunger, he fell down and cut open his knee and bled.  He felt our emotions too, sadness over the death of a friend, perhaps loneliness, but joy and excitement over celebrations and thankfulness at the richness of everyday life.  I want to put my faith in a God who is real.  He needs to be holy, set apart and big enough to create everything, hold it all together, love it all.  But I also must be able to grasp him, to hold onto him in order to feel the safety of his being so I can walk with courage into the vastness of who he his.

At Christmas time I can feel both.  God slipped into this world both humbly and humanly, as an infant surrounded by the love of community, his mother and father, crying out for his first breath of earthly air, just like us.  But he also came in all his splendor and mystery that is God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, announced by angels and set apart from the very beginning as God’s own Son.  Yes, the gift of Christmas is that we can have a God who is both/and, not just either/or and that makes him real, and to me, a God worth pursuing with my whole being.

Conduit

I’ve been turning over in my mind lately the idea of how we serve God, or maybe it’s how God works through us.  Or maybe something else altogether, I’m not sure yet.  It’s this idea of when I feel so in tune with God that I just know that in my very being that he is speaking or working through me in that moment and everything in life just clicks.

I feel it most acutely when I’m communicating with others.  I’ve felt it in the past but am more able through this year of deeper self-discovery to start to pinpoint these moments when I’m talking with someone, or now in this case writing to whoever might be reading out there, where I step out of the way and somehow God steps in my place and I begin to share words that I don’t even know where they come from.  The best way I can explain it is speaking in tongues, but the kind everyone in the room can understand.

And I know it happens because while I’m sharing, the person on the receiving end will have this look in their eyes where whatever I’m sharing is clicking somewhere inside of them.  Sometimes they even begin scrawling down notes on a piece of paper.  And from my end, I become increasingly self-aware that the words that are coming from me are in all actuality just flowing from me, from a deep place, and all I need to do in that moment is open the floodgates and pour forth whatever wisdom is meant to come out.

I’ve been calling it a conduit because it’s the best picture I can have in my mind for this.  Somewhere, somehow God and I have a connection in a moment and he decides that in that moment he wants to connect also with whomever I am with.  I sit and I listen, to the other and to the Spirit and I ask graciously, what needs to happen here?  What invitation needs to be made?

What a privilege it is that the work of God that we do doesn’t come from our own hands.  The great Creator, and in my medium the creator of words, chooses to shape my words and articulate them in a way that transforms the kingdom around me.  So instead of thinking that I must perform, or I must conjure up something profound from my self and offer it up to him to then judge and manipulate into something worthy to share with the masses what if it’s actually being a living sacrifice, offering nothing but myself on the altar to make a peace and reconciliation between God and his people because he is going to work through me.

I have to admit that though I feel fully alive in these moments and don’t ever want them to end, they also are quite scary.  Because here’s the thing, we don’t serve a tame and safe God.  I remember the childhood classic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by CS Lewis where the children are learning about Aslan and that he is the rescuer but he’s also a lion and I believe it’s Lucy who inquires, “is he a tame lion?” because of course the thought of a lion conjures up a power and fierceness that is frightening and the beavers answer is, “of course not, but he is good.”  Is God tame, oh no my friends he is not but is he good?  He is the only good that exists.  So when we enter into the service of our Creator he is going to invite us into these incredible, not safe things, that will put our necks out on the line.  But if we are this conduit that is a bridge between God and here that will transform not only ourselves but the world around us, how can we say no.

I’ve said no, I say no a lot.  Because I go back to that thinking that the work I do must come from me and then I get in the way of God’s best intentions.  A few years ago I was singing a song to God in corporate worship on Sunday morning and sang the line, “And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us.  And if our God is with us then what could stand against,” which comes from a passage of Paul’s letters to the Romans (8:31).  God’s voice spoke to me as I sang those words out, “you Kelly, you are what stops you and in turn stops me from doing the work I want to do.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks and choked the words in my throat.  I am the one who holds me back and shuts down the conduit that God wants to move through.  My fear, my laziness, my inner critic that says what if I mess up so it’s better to just not try at all and play it safe, my lack of awareness to the presence of God in the moment by moment of my life.  What if I died to self, to that fear and lived for Christ?  What awesome things could God and I do?

So friends, where are you a conduit for God?  When are the moments that your life clicks and you are so aware of the presence of God and what he is doing in you and through you that you feel fully alive?  Is it painting a picture or baking a cake?  Is it writing a computer program or a business proposal?  Is it teaching others or healing the wounds of the broken?  God has work for all of us to do in his kingdom, the question is will you step out of your own way to let him do it?