Anna and the Surprising Jesus

Hey Friends!

I’m so thrilled to have my writing over at SheLoves Magazine for advent.  Have you subscribed to them?  Their advent series has been amazing.

Hop on over to read what Anna taught me about hope on a cold Christmas night…

“My mother hadn’t decorated the house for Christmas since my dad died. Our family heirloom ornaments of crumbling school craft material sat still and musty in the rafters of her garage and no tree or wreath or garland or scent of pine or cinnamon were allowed to fill the home. They would be dangerously redolent of the times our family laughed and teased and huddled under oversized blankets on the couch.

I prayed through my holiday depression, into the fog. “Lord, I need a promise that our family is going to be okay.” I read through the Christmas Story, trying to hear it in my dad’s familiar voice, trying to feel like Christmas. That was the night I met Anna.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.

 

Orange is the New Bible Study

I sat around a table of 12 minimum security inmates who wore ill fitted uniforms of faded broad black and white stripes.  It was my first time in jail as a volunteer chaplain and it took a full 30 minutes for me to feel present instead of nervous, self-conscious, and hyper-alert.  I had been trained on what to do in case of a fight or lockdown, I was educated on no-hostage zones, I left my wedding ring at home and didn’t wear anything around my neck. 

Still, I was not prepared.

I was not prepared for the tenderness at that table.  As our small group discussed trusting God it slowly became apparent that every single woman at the table beside my co-leader and myself had been physically or sexually abused.  Some of them had been homeless before coming to jail, many had prior records or were illiterate making them virtually unemployable, some were afraid to get out. Getting out means being on the streets again, trying to change with little support, having to make a hard choice to stay or leave an abusive spouse without the safe distance of jail between you.

“You don’t get it, we’re from the street.” she tried to explain her life to me gently.  “We don’t talk like you and nobody out there cares about us.”

It’s so incredibly complicated.  The cycles of violence, poverty, and racism.  The impact of drugs and alcohol and limited education.  I asked one of the women about a prayer request she had on a prior week, but she was more excited to show me her fingernails.  “Look!  The food here makes my fingernails grow- I’ve never had fingernails before!”  She was so thankful for the nutrition that the food in jail provided her.  

It’s a building full of hurting people.  Maybe that’s why I sense God so strongly there.

It’s like nothing else when four of us volunteers stand beneath the barbed wire of the chain link fence and pray (with our eyes open) before walking into the dormitories.  We have seen miracles happen.  We have seen impossible prayers answered seconds later.  We have watched imprisoned women with partially shaved heads and tattoos sing “I Can Only Imagine” at the top of their lungs and dancing together, desperate for the words of God to be true.

It’s a brutally beautiful thing to carry light into the darkness: to trust that it is bright enough, true enough, strong enough, and to watch it SHINE radiantly beyond expectation.  I’ve learned that walking into that dorm is as much walking into the darkness as it is walking towards the light.  I get to hear the women recite their hard learned memory verses, to talk to the woman who is teaching herself to write by copying chapters out of the Bible given to her by the chaplain, and weekly I rediscover that this whole Jesus thing is GOOD NEWS.  Powerful, freeing, life changing, hope instilling, incredible news.  My faith feels so small in those walls, and the Spirit feels so big, and I remember so much more clearly how I need Him to give me words and teach me to love.

Will you carry the light with me?

You don’t have to come inside the jail with me.  I volunteer with CIC Ministries and they are working hard to expand their reach into the darkest parts of the jails.

This #GivingTuesday would you consider sending them a gift?  CIC provides classes, training, reading glasses, Bibles, and SO MUCH more to inmates in our Bay Area community who desperately need it.  Right now you can even choose a thoughtful thank you gift from CIC to correspond with your tax deductible donation.  

For the inmate who told me out loud that no one cares, and for every one of the voiceless and defeated woman in jail who thinks the same thing, I want to show up- and I hope you join me: 

Sisters, you may be from the street but you are one of us humans with more dignity than you can imagine.  You are not only dearly loved by God, but I care about you.  We care about you.  All of us who carry God’s Spirit cannot help but care deeply about you.

Let’s walk- even run- in our freedom together.

The Promise God Would not Make to Me

My dad wasn’t at my wedding.  He had died 10 weeks before, his body riddled with cancer and his face ravaged by radiation.  My grief swelled and receded in unpredictable rhythms over the next four years, but it wasn’t until I had my first baby girl that a terror awoke which I hadn’t realized was sleeping on the ocean floor.

Her porcelain infant face reflected a soft glow from the nightlight as I held her at 2am.  It occurred to me suddenly that I could not promise her that everything would be okay.  I could not promise her that I would be at her wedding day.  I did not know for sure that I would watch her grow up or cheer her on from the stands.

My entire chest clenched tight as my breath staggered.  My dad would never hold her.

I prayerfully pleaded through sobs and gasps, God please let me watch her fall in love.  Please God, let me walk with her and hold her and wipe her tears.  I want to hold my grandchild.  Her entire life flashed before my eyes and I wanted to grab it tight, to know with certainty I would be a part of every moment, to never hurt her by leaving her.  I knew that I could not promise that to her, that God would not promise that to me, and so I cried uncontrollably in anger and fear.

Her sweet little eyes did not even open.

In the dark, floating on a gliding chair, God spoke the promise I needed to hear.  My baby girl is His daughter, carefully created with delight and intention.  He set her spirit loose from heaven and into my arms because she and I belonged to each other.  Her spirit and mine were destined to dance, and holding on to one another see time and again the loving and tender heart of God. He has written the beautiful story of her days in a sacred book, and would not turn His eyes from her for a single one of them.  The love I hold for her, though it can barely be contained by my body, could only faintly echo the song He sings over Her.  His steadfast love and enduring faithfulness would surround her all of her days.

In the painful knowledge that I could not protect my daughter, or possess the lights and shadows of her life ahead, my fear of the promises God would not make to us gave way to the comfort of the promises He will never break.  He will love her, provide for her, and never leave her. I didn’t surrender my daughter to God that night, I acknowledged in my soul that she has always been His and always will be.  I cannot promise her I will always be there for her, but she and I can claim together the promise that God will.  I can only hold out for her the hope of the love that I’ve experienced from God myself, so I let it wash over my weary mother’s soul.

I hold my daughter with confidence these days, her body much larger as her legs drape over the side of the couch.  I hold her as a loving mother without fear for her future, because I know I am holding a beloved soul in my fragile and beloved arms.

Thank you to CC peasnap https://flic.kr/p/4Uk61t

Photo Credit to CC peasnap https://flic.kr/p/4Uk61t

Fierce Desperation: Trusting God as Healer (For Yourself in Real Life)

She had a wound, and she was bleeding (Mark 5:25-34).

Years of trying to stop the bleeding, slow the bleeding, cover up the bleeding, understand or control the bleeding all brought her to this place of still bleeding.  Crushed hopes, abandonment, and hundreds of unanswered prayers gifted her with a fierce desperation but nothing else.

People shunned her because she was bleeding.  Today my bleeding sisters and I would rather banish ourselves to the fringes of society.  We hide our wounds and when the blood spills over we hide ourselves.  Some of us bleed jealousy, insecurity, bitterness, and control issues in a way that sabotages our relationships long before anyone can recognize our woundedness.

This past year I looked at myself in fresh awareness and had a painful realization.  It’s been 8 years since my dad died and beneath the surface of my clean white bandages, I was still bleeding.

When the counseling and the books and the prayers of those first few years felt like time and money misspent; I settled for the calm I found in fresh starts, new ambitions, and suppressed emotions.  God was so present, so comforting, and I felt close to Him through the whole process- little did I know He was dreaming so much more for me.  He waited for me to be ready to not only call Him healer, or prescribe Him as healer, but to TRUST Him as healer.

I’m in a season of getting to know “Jehovah Rophi”, God who heals.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s a much longer road than I expected. Grabbing on to Jesus healed the woman of Mark 5 instantly, but I’ve found it to be my starting point.
  • It is more painful, more abundantly good, more work, and more rewarding than I imagined. Moments of intensity followed by periods of waiting; surprising and ridiculous grace one day and desperate tears of recognition the next.  Intense goodness and grace, intense anguish, and plenty of waiting all dance to a rhythm I haven’t quite learned yet.
  • Much like physical healing, so many things are connected.  This sounds simple, but caught me by surprise.
  • Deep soul work requires a ridiculous amount of energy and focus, I’ve needed to take care of my body and clear my schedule in a way that may not look necessary from the outside.
  • I’ve needed more help than I wanted to take.  My spiritual director, therapist, husband and close friends have all made it possible for me to have time, space, and perspective on all that is moving inside me.  I really wanted to just keep this between God and I.  I was ready to pray a lot but definitely not admit to anyone else that I was bleeding.  Like my role model in Mark 5 I had to go public with my need for help, and that was harder than I thought.  Inviting others into your healing is NOT selfish; it’s a gift to them and a necessary part of the process.  Ask God who He has planned to be on team YOU alongside Himself.

If this is all feeling a little familiar or maybe a little uncomfortable, I wonder if you may be bleeding too.  It’s easy to limp along, unnoticed, and incredibly painful and scary to take that bandage off for the first time and let the light and air reach a wound.

Maybe now is not your time.  Everything is a season, and “healing” is not for the faint of heart- it’s for the fiercely desperate.

What would it look like to recognize your wound and grab hold of Jesus?

Who or what could God use to speak truth, life, and further His work of healing in you?

If you are bold, you may consider beginning with a simple prayer.  “God, I’m bleeding.  I’m available to hear from you, be moved by you, and be healed by you.  I trust you as creator, keeper, and lover of my soul.”  And in the quiet moments of the day, with simple breaths continue to pray “I’m available” and wait.

I pray that Christ’s hard-earned freedom would be realized in your life as you walk this path- may you discover a beautiful side of God as you experience His healing.

What Your Body Says About You

The day after my second child turned one, tears streamed down my face and my body started to shake as I sobbed alone in my backyard.  I wasn’t crying because he wasn’t a baby anymore, I was undone that a year after I had brought that sweet boy home I weighed the same horrible number as the day I left the hospital.  Wasn’t that the rule?  A year to gain, a year to lose. I had gained 30 pounds, and a year later had lost none.

It was frustrating that my clothes didn’t fit and my reflection still caught me by surprise from time to time, but it wasn’t bikini season that had me crouched over in tears of shame- I thought my post-baby body said something about me:

…that I was undisciplined or unmotivated

…that I wasn’t “keeping it tight” or giving my husband something worth looking at

…that I would never fit in with the pretty, popular moms

I was so obsessed with what I thought my body said ABOUT me, that I completely missed what my body was saying TO me.

I had two kids under two and struggled with post-partum depression after my second child.  My body was desperate for self-care.  I was eating my emotions instead of dealing with them.  Every time I looked in the mirror I felt such loathing for that haggard woman staring back at me, it made me want to eat a brownie.  I was struggling with motherhood, with having left my career, and with making new friends.

My 30 pounds were not saying I was not beautiful or worthy, the weight I was holding was trying to tell me I needed to deal with the heavy emotions my soul was trying to carry.  We are all a tripod of mind, spirit, and body. When our body is out of balance it’s an invitation to notice what is going on with the rest of us, even if that awareness is awkward or painful.

It’s been two years since the tears I cried after my son’s birthday party.  I finally lost the weight after a long and integrated journey toward physical, spiritual, and mental care.  I’ve learned that my body is not my avatar to impress the world, my skin is my opportunity to show up and love the world.

I’ve learned to listen to what my body is saying to me:

…that being tired isn’t my body saying I’m incapable, it’s my body asking me to rest

…that being sick isn’t my body accusing me of not eating enough veggies, it’s my body asking me to slow down and ask for help

…that gaining a pound or two isn’t a relapse, it’s my body wanting me to move a little more and stop eating goldfish crackers (my body and I still fight on this one a lot)

I used to think that having body image issues was a lifelong part of being a woman, but I am finding that when I listen to my body as a message carrier for my soul I care a lot less about how it looks in a bikini.  As I learn to listen to my body, I’m learning to listen to my deepest self; and as my deepest self finds her voice I’m learning to like her.  Even more than brownies.

If your body is not cooperating with you- hear her out.  She may have something to say that could surprise you.

Learning to Listen to Your Life

I most hate the feelings that I least understand.  I wish they would just fall in line where I tell them to, and that my crazy body could keep up with me and stop being so tired and hungry all the time.

This past fall I was introduced to the precious idea that my life circumstances, thoughts, emotions, and body could be speaking to me; sometimes even screaming.  All the parts of me are calling out together with invitations for self-care, spiritual guidance, conflict resolution, and the grace of God.  After beginning a regular practice of learning to listen to my life and seek to notice God’s presence and voice, the incongruities in my emotions and desires have become gifts of focus, conversations of prayer, and nudges towards meaningful action.

I’ve modified an exercise that would typically be done with a spiritual director to make it easy to use as an individual reflection and journal exercise. Give it a try, and may the act of listening to your life and sensing God there bless you.

Soul Attention Exercise

Soul Attention is a 30 minute prayerful journaling exercise.  As you respond to each question use bullet points, simple phrases or single words, and write as many as you can.  Go with your gut, be honest and unedited.  Do not include any explanations.  Pause after each question, and in a moment of silence ask God if there is anything to add or change. Each question should take about 3 minutes to fully answer.

This awareness exercise is not only designed to open a meaningful prayer conversation with God, but to invite you to receive His available love, grace, and healing as you slow down and listen to your soul.

If you are ready, begin with a simple prayer such as Psalm 139:23: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

May I pray with you? Lord, give this beautiful daughter of yours the grace she needs to pay attention and become aware of not only her self, but also the great things, perfect plans, and wonderful gifts in store for her.

Journaling Questions:

  1. What is true about your life?

List facts of your life: your relationships, positions, activities, etc.  Avoid qualitative words like “kind” or “loving”, focus only on unarguable facts like “I am a mother” or “I am single” or “I work 50 hours a week”.

  1. What have you been thinking about? 

Thoughts that come to you regularly, problems you are actively working to solve, something or someone that pops in your mind regularly, a decision you are deliberating, etc. Different than feelings.

  1. What emotions have you felt recently?  What triggered them?

These are feelings and emotions, different than thoughts.  Things like “sad”, “lost” or “betrayed by…”, “ignored by…”, “jealous of…”, “lustful for…”, “angry at…” etc.  Note how your emotions are currently interacting with yourself, others, circumstances, and God.

  1. What is going on with your physical body?

Pause for a moment. Focus on your physical body.  Are you feeling tired, sore, weak, strong, how is your posture?  your libido? your digestion? your health?

  1. If Jesus were standing in front of you and offered to give you a kind, clear, and honest answer to any question- what would you ask Him?
  1. What do you desire or long for? 

Is there anything you wish you could do, have, be, or feel?

CC image available courtesy of Tim Pierce on flickr. License & Original image: https://flic.kr/p/kV9h4v

CC image available courtesy of Tim Pierce on flickr. License & Original image: https://flic.kr/p/kV9h4v

***

Once you are finished, pause and pray Psalm 139:23 again “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”   Read through all of your answers twice.

  1. What do you notice? 

Ask God to help you notice what He sees, to make meaningful truth stand out from the page, and for connections to surface.

  1. How will you respond?

Remember that you are laying your heart before a gracious, forgiving, loving God who is thrilled to be having this conversation with you.  Your response to the exercise could range from confession to worship to pursuing a dream or longing you may sense God making clear. It should be motivated by love, not fear or achievement.  Make an intention to revisit this conversation with Him in prayer at any quiet moments you have this week.  Be sensitive to notice any presence or response from God.

Overcoming Church Hurt with “Angry Jesus”

I’m a regular contributor on our weekly church podcast, Digging Deeper.

This week we launched our series “Jesus Unfiltered” by discussing John 2, which includes the miracle of water being turned to wine and Jesus’ outrage at the temple.

We film our podcast before we see the sermon being discussed; and although we all review the passages ahead of time, we don’t plan or rehearse the podcast- so it gets very organic and takes a direction of its own most of the time.   It all makes for a great feel to the discussion, but some weeks I leave wishing I would have said something more or said it differently.

This is one of those weeks.

I said, on camera, that “The image of Jesus with a whip is not my favorite picture of Him in the New Testament”

Since those words came out of my mouth, the story of Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple has not left my mind alone- and after more thought and prayer I have a new love for the image of Jesus with a whip.

Jesus with a whip, driving out people and animals from the temple and turning over tables with “zeal” and “rage” triggered an emotional response in me of fear.  It’s as if I was hiding in a corner of the temple, terrified of when His judgement would turn towards me.

My first question of this story was “How am I standing in the way of people experiencing God?”

A new question occurred to me as I further processed the story (after taping, of course):

“How does God feel about the authorities and structures that have kept me from experiencing Him in truth?”

Like many others, I’m a child of deep church hurt.  I grew up in a highly conservative church environment that had a very legalistic take on how to please God and a diminishing view of women.  Although there was some good mixed with the bad, and many people I love are still part of that church, I have at times felt unprotected by God in His own house.  It is outrageous to me the level of imperfection that God is comfortable with- both in His church and in myself.  It’s a good thing, but a hard thing.

Since the leadership of the church I grew up in presented themselves as divinely appointed shepherds and none of them were struck down by lightning, I assumed that God was okay with everything that was going on.  After college, I walked away from the experience confused and secretly angry, deeply afraid to explore my anger- thinking I was angry at God.  Jesus with a whip frees me from being angry at God, and gives me permission to explore and express my anger towards systems and even people who stand in the way of people (like me!) coming to Him.  Those tables Jesus turned over had been up at the temple for some time, it was not the first day of exploitation or exclusion in that temple court.  It’s unclear why God allowed it to happen up until then- but CRYSTAL clear how he felt about it.

This now makes the image of Jesus with a whip one of favorite pictures of him in the New Testament.

Jay talked about the ways this story and the story of the wedding demonstrate God’s immensely relational nature, and He is right.  After re-reading the story this morning, I was struck by the ending.  The story is not actually focused on Jesus with a whip or Jesus defending the temple, it is Jesus AS the temple.

“But He was speaking about the temple of His body.  When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that He said this…” John 2:21-22

As we draw near to Resurrection Sunday, I think it’s interesting that the story of Jesus with a whip is probably one of the memories that was recounted on the very first Easter as Jesus’ early followers were trying to process who He was, what His life meant, and what was next.

The truth is I’m not a scared girl, hiding in the corner of the temple court from a crazy man with a whip.  I’m the woman that angry man with a whip is fighting for.

Jesus took on the temple, religion, sin, and death to have the chance to be with me forever and WON. EACH. TIME.

So I take back what I said on camera, the image of Jesus with a whip is a beautiful picture of His heart and desire to be recognized as the true temple- a perfectly safe, sacred embodiment where I can be fully loved by God.

3 Ways to Read your Bible in the New Year

Was your 2015 Resolution to find joy? peace? balance?  So many of our soul’s deepest longings for acceptance, beauty, happiness and rest are promised in the presence of God.  One of the easiest ways to connect with God and claim his promises for our lives is by spending time learning his voice, thoughts, and truth that has been recorded in the Bible.

The goal of reading the Bible is simply to better understand, hear, and follow God.  Reading the Bible isn’t just something super Christians or Pastors do, it’s the pathway for anyone who wants to connect everything that is supposed to be true about God with the mess of their real lives.

A few practical tips that will help:

  • Consider it an invitation, not an obligation God wants to speak to you, he wants to show you who he is and always has been. He wants you to show up because he loves you.  Don’t set Bible reading goals and resolutions to work your way through a book, decide first that you are in it to meet God.
  • Treat yourself Make the time you have with God special. Schedule it on your calendar.  Make yourself a hot beverage, cuddle in a cozy blanket, splurge on a new journal.  The time should feel like a treat, and the atmosphere should encourage connection.
  • Buddy System Having a buddy (or two!) who you share your thoughts and experiences with as you are reading is not just a great accountability tool, it is an amazing way to build intimacy and spiritual depth in your friendships.
  • Leverage Technology Get the YouVersion (Free!) Bible App on your phone for instant Bible reading in just about any translation, free devotional reading plans of every length for any topic, free audio Bible, and more! When you have questions about anything you read, check out the online commentaries at org or Bible Gateway.
  • Don’t fear questions Our God is bigger than we are, and there are things we aren’t going to understand the first time we read them or maybe ever. Don’t be afraid to question or doubt or not understand.  Always leave room for God to surprise you.

It can be intimidating to know where to begin or how to go about reading the Bible in a way that is interesting and meaningful, so here are 3 easy ideas to choose from.

Zoom Out

If you are brand new to the Bible, or just want to get a “big picture” view without reading the whole thing, I would highly recommend getting a copy of The Story or The Jesus Storybook Bible and making your way through them a chapter at a time.

The Story is a wonderful abridged version of the Bible that reads easily, like a novel, while still using primarily the NIV Bible text.  The Jesus Storybook Bible may technically be for children, but the quality illustrations and beautiful writing is really enjoyable for adults as well.  It is a very quick read and will give you a great overview of the big story that the Bible tells.

If you’re feeling ambitious you could also read your Bible in a Year (or 90 Days!) for the full view.

Use SOAP Daily*

The SOAP method is classic, structured, and focused on practical application.  This is a great devotional structure to work your way through a book of the Bible systematically.  It is a very helpful tool to focus your thoughts and train your mind for reading the scriptures devotionally. It should take about 30 minutes per day, and is best done in a journal.  Be sure to start your time with prayer, even something as simple as “I am here, ready to hear you God.”  Read a chapter or less of scripture and then work your way through the following steps.  Repeat daily and work your way through a book of the Bible.  Mark, James, and Galatians are all great New Testament books to start with.

S = Scripture
From your Bible reading, write down ONE verse that “hits” you, “grabs you”, stands out to you.  Only ONE verse – not two, not three.  The key is to focus on one thing.

O = Observation
Write down what happened in that verse.  Be very basic – almost like you are writing to a second grader.  Don’t need personal insight yet, just the facts.  Who, what, where, when, why, how.  What do you learn about God or about man from this verse?  Aim for at least 2 or 3 “bullet points”.  Sometimes it helps to read the context (surrounding verses).  If they don’t come to you right away, ask God for wisdom and listen.  Take a few moments to sit and think.  You’ll be surprised what He shows you.

A = Application
This is the hardest part but the most important.  Write down an action item that you will do to apply the truth God has shown you.  It doesn’t have to be big.  In fact, it is usually very small.  The key is do something.  Otherwise, we tend to walk away from what we’ve read and never remember it again.

Try to avoid vague generalities like:  “Love people more”, and “Have more self-control”.  It is much more effective to be specific and targeted…”Love my husband today by helping him wash the car,” or “Write a note of encouragement to my Life Group Leader”

P = Prayer
Write out a prayer (could be a sentence, could be a paragraph) in response to what God has shown you.  It could be:
-praise for something you learned about him today
-asking for God’s help to carry out your application and remember his truth
-asking him to change you and work in your life that day

Don’t overanalyze or worry about how you sound.  Just talk to God like you’d talk to a person – God only cares that it is heartfelt, and not whether it is “flowery and flowy”.  It is ok and expected to feel awkward at first.

*Much thanks to Dawn Lietzau for her fantastic SOAP resource!

Get Creative

Psalm 1:2 (NLT) But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.

It isn’t about how much of the Bible you read, it is about letting it soak in.  Take time to meditate on it.  Don’t just read it and walk away, let it roll around in your mind.  Let the truth of a verse leap from your journal and come face to face with your daily reality of messy, real life and then embrace the tension that may be there.

Choose a verse on a topic that is running through your mind right now.  It may be a need or desire you have, a wise word you need to listen to, or a shred of hope and grace you are desperate to hold on to.  A simple way to find a verse is to just google “verses about ____” and many will show up.  Once you have a verse you can go to Pinterest or Google images and search for it by reference or topic to find a beautiful typographical image.

Memorize your verse. Do this by repeating it and reading it multiple times a day, thoughtfully, considering the words and their meaning.

Print off the text or an image of your verse and tape it up everywhere you will see it often in your day.  On your bathroom mirror, on your car dashboard, on your coffee maker, make at least 3 copies that are visible.  You may even consider making your own typography of the text or finding one that is beautifully done and taking the time to trace it.

Pray your verse back to God each day, either substituting your name in a key part or just quoting it to remind God of who he says he is or what he has promised.

The goal of this method is to go deep in one very small portion of scripture, but to truly connect with God through his words.

Things to Remember as you Read:

  • You are held to a standard of grace, not perfection
  • You will experience God’s presence, or absence, in different ways through different life seasons. This does not ever change the constants of who he is and how he loves you.
  • Expect great things from the presence of God and don’t stop until you have found them.
  • Insight should never be a substitute for life change, aim for growth and love over knowledge.
  • Do not forget prayer. Listen to what God has said in the Bible to better recognize his voice and hear what he is saying to you today.
  • Don’t compartmentalize your devotional time with God. Although it is valuable to have a scheduled and sacred time in reading, journaling, meditation or prayer, consider how you can live your full day as your full self with God’s presence and voice.
  • As you amp up your Bible/truth input, consider dialing back unhealthy influences too.
  • You DO have time. We make time for what is important to us and excuses for what isn’t.
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CC image available courtesy of Asha Susan on flickr. License & Original image: https://flic.kr/p/6eqvBN

What to ask Yourself or the People you Love on NYE

Resolution or reflection or both- either can be healthy or unhealthy tonight.  Here’s an easy way to combine the two and add depth or intimacy to your NYE whether you are clinking glasses of champagne on a crowded rooftop or petting your cat in front of the TV at midnight tonight.

Ask yourself, or the ones you love most these three simple questions:

What do you want?

What do you need?

How will you/can we work on those?

These answers have to be honest and vulnerable to be powerful, so choose who you ask and who you reveal yourself to wisely.  Try to push past what people tell you to want or need, or what you think you should want or need or fix.  What actually makes your soul sigh when you think of it?  What would make a real difference in your ability to love yourself and others well?

Let’s all admit that some of our honest longings or perceived needs may not be healthy or take us in the right direction.  Sharing them with our trusted friends can help us sort through which dreams are worth chasing.

Take a quiet moment sometime soon and also bring your wants and needs into the ultimate light of God’s love in a simple prayer, and share your 3 simple questions with Him.

God, what are my desires revealing about our relationship?  

How I can I depend on you for my needs?

What is my next step to better see how you are present in my needs an desires or to appreciate your plan for my 2015?

May 2015 be a year of dreams formed and broken and made stronger (like every other year).  It’s our year.  To live our crazy lives and bring our fragile dreams out into the dangerous chaos, to do the whole thing honestly with God and with each other.  It won’t be perfect, but it’s gonna be great.

Cheers!

CC image available courtesy of Selena N.B.H. on flickr. License & Original image: https://flic.kr/p/oWtY6S

How to deal with the person you don’t like- pull up a chair.

‘Tis the season to spend time with family and coworkers and friends, and mixed into all of the celebration are those special people who just drive us nuts.  In the month of December and in the name of baby Jesus we are uncomfortably pushed into close proximity with people who rub us the wrong way, who have nothing in common with us, or who bring something out in us we find difficult to face.  Happy.  Holidays.

I’m not talking about dealing with people who are destructive or have hurt me or times when reconciliation or counseling may be in order.  Embarrassingly enough, there are people whose personalities simply irritate me and their perspectives and words make me feel attacked or annoyed. I try to pretend that I’m above that, but I’m not.

I’m in a spiritual direction cohort, where I’ve been studying spiritual formation and the art of listening to God and others. Our group was recently discussing a case study.  As I listened to the subject of the study speak her incoherent and religiously verbose point of view over a recording, my stomach tightened.  I found myself holding my breath, tensing my posture, and concentrating on not looking annoyed.  As the study unfolded, the subject finally opened up and after long pauses in silence the true version of her frightened, shamed, desperate, and courageous self came out from behind the offputting  mask of defense and distraction she had originally upheld.

As I stared at the small box in the center of the room which served as the source of the audio recording I felt shallow, ashamed, and unworthy to witness the beautiful thing that had happened before my eyes.  I can be so proud.  I can be so easily annoyed and quick to dismiss- especially toward those who seem proud themselves. I wondered, in a painful moment of self truth-telling, how many stories I had never heard the beautiful end of simply because I did not value their mystery or honor the distinctness of those people that I didn’t like.

I asked my teacher a humble question, “Is it possible to like everyone?  It seems like you do and I wish I did.”

Because I have tried to like everyone. I’m actually a really nice girl.  Truly.  And I tell myself that every human has dignity and is a precious soul that Christ died for and whom he loves relentlessly.  I tell myself that the spirit of God is within me and loves every human desperately and the world will know the spirit of God by how I love. I know that community and relationship is God’s design for the human experience and I tell myself that any bitterness or grudges can be pointing to unhealth.  BUT THEN certain people open their mouths and it is ALL OVER.  I wonder if I can just “love people without liking them” and design ways to avoid ever talking to their head again.

My wise teacher with silver hair and gentle eyes looked over his thin metal glasses and his answer must be told and retold until all of us humans learn how to love each other.

He quoted Sister Wendy Beckett, the British nun whose precious spirit journeyed from hermit to world renowned art critic. In her profound piece “The Art of Looking at Art” she says “It has been well said that the basic condition for art appreciation is a chair.” In truth, every person may best be appreciated as a work of art.  If we consider God is the original artist of each souls design we must understand that no painting goes untarnished or unvandalized in our world, not even our own. Perhaps if we were able to “pull up a chair” we may be able to be still enough for long enough to appreciate the mystery of the art before us, even if the initial impression is far from awe and wonder.

Sister Wendy adds, “The passageway provided by art is very wide. No single interpretation of art is ever “right,” not even the artist’s own. He or she can tell us the intent of the work, but the actual meaning and significance of the art, what the artist achieved, is a very different matter.” Difficult people cannot be labeled or analyzed or interpreted in a definitive and absolute way.  The effort to even attempt such a narrow appreciation of someone is dehumanizing.

I know that when I sit in the “chair” in quiet and sacred humility to contemplate the art of the person in front of me, it will not only be hidden beauty that presents itself.  I may never be sophisticated enough to discern their glory- Lord help me.  When my brokenness and bias leaps out ahead of the beauty I hope to find grace from the master curator of heaven and earth.  Dear God, in that most human and scary place teach me to allow that grace to cover me and overflow on all of the people I don’t like- including myself.

The chair of appreciation is best sat upon in silence and solitude. As I sit and allow myself to consider my special, difficult people I invite God’s presence through prayer.  Teach me to see their beauty, Lord.  Teach me why my ego and emotion react so viscerally to their art. Be gentle, Lord, as my anger and hurt come out.  Let there be no shame as you correct me and heal me.  Thank you for this invitation to recognize you through unexpected art, and to recognize myself in my reaction.  Amen.

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CC image available courtesy of Threthny on flickr. License & Original image: https://flic.kr/p/oMgZSw