God’s Will: When You’re Straining to Hear His Voice

It’s in those moments when you need answers – real answers. Not the prayers that we toss out in gratitude and thankfulness, or the ones that sail on a breeze as we converse with Jesus over the every day issues of life. Not the chatting. Not even the pleading when life is dark and we can’t hear, see, or feel a glimpse of God.

blue flowers

It’s when your waiting to hear his voice about the decisions in life that matter, but you’ve settled into into living in the now and not yet so every moment is a moment for God. And yet it’s there. Haunting your thoughts. What do I do Lord? Where do I go? How? When? Is it you Lord? Is it you?

Here I am Lord send me. 

Here I am Lord. I’m listening. 

The decisions – the big ones. The moves, the missions, the jobs, the ones that change your life as God changes your heart to pursue his will.

The will decisions.

What is your will for my life, right now, in this moment of time that will affect many, many, future moments, and an equal amount of relationships and some of their moments.

We were away for a few weeks attending to some business, visiting some family, witnessing our son graduate from basic training. We had made all the decisions before we went… where to stay so as to make a completely non-affordable trip affordable, how to travel… drive to there…fly to here…fly back there…more driving. Almost every carefully thought out plan was upended as we arrived. 

Did you pray about it?

(Gosh, I hate when people ask that. First, it can sound really self-righteous, second most of the time you are asking someone that would have prayed, third, “delight yourself in the Lord and he’ll give you the desires of your heart…” When we are in daily communion with the Holy Spirit his presence in always seeking, always listening, always intervening, but we live in a fallen world. Things happen. Last but not least, if someone hasn’t prayed, you are insinuating that is why bad things are happening!  Living in communion is prayer. But I digress.)

Life is about choices and many if not most of the choices we make, we listen to the spirit’s guidance and hope we are interpreting what we think we are hearing correctly. Communication between two humans can be difficult enough – communication with God has a certain amount of guess work combined with a large dose of faith.

I’ve had those moments of almost audible prophecy (that came to pass) and absolute assurance, but most of the time it is that gut feeling. An inner knowing that He is with me in the decisions, even if I am still not sure my decision has heavenly origins.

Our relationship with God is not based upon being in His will, but in being in him.

Being in Him is being in His will.

It is being sold out to follow Jesus despite the costs, despite the pain, despite the struggles. It is living in the place where He is the first thing we think of when we wake up in the morning and the last One we think of when we lie down at night. It is when our life is so intertwined in His that “we live and move and have our being” is more than a religious platitude, but the savor of His divine breath mingled with our own.

It is when we cease to look to God to fulfill our every need, purpose, and desire, but allow ourselves to be fully seen and known in naked vulnerability and brokenness.

It’s when we understand that just like a baby, newly birthed, smelling of life and love, nestled safely in the arms of her mother – His delight is right there – in that moment, in that vulnerability, in that helplessness, in that inner cry of innocence.

baby

We are fully His, and His delight is in loving us. 

That is His will for us, and in us. Pure innocent love. Pure innocent trust. Not straining to hear His voice. Not striving to do His will.

Not asking for anything, but trusting in everything. Not striving for results, but resting in relationship. Not anxious in seeking, but content in being.

His voice is the voice of Love. His will is the will of being.

His grace is sufficient. 

 

 

The American Dream as Personal Salvation

books

Throughout the world there are many obvious aspects of culture that affect religion. This is evident in any critical analysis of countries and religions worldwide and a contributor to the diversity and functionality of people groups. What happens when it affects societies and the church as a whole, and is the evangelical church in American willing to examine its own “folk culture” to see what has been added to the gospel in pursuit of the “american dream?”  

As I’ve been studying Ministry to Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Children, my heart has been even more deeply burdened for the brokenness of this world which abuses the most vulnerable for financial gain, and perverted power.

Sadly, it begins here in the land of the brave and the home of the free.  

This extends from using children in slavery, to the self absorbed organizational and political powers that still believe any race or gender should be given power or control over another. Why did it take a graduate course to hear and learn about the enormity and depth of this problem which should be at the forefront of american society? After two hundred-twenty-nine years since the writing of our constitution why are we still fighting to be a republic and witness freedom for all? It’s an imbalance of power in a country that still claims to be predominantly “Christian.”

The issues begin with the heart. Our hearts should be compassionately leading the way in peace and reconciliation. The “American Dream” appears to have become a dream of personal gain. The American Dream for many Christians seems to have become deeply rooted in a personal salvation experience.

We who are followers of the Nazarene have been called as “friends” to walk beside a man who gave up ultimate power to show us The Way to ultimate love. He said the one who “loses” his (or her) life will gain it and proved it by giving up his own life for us. It is a different calling than the “take back,” “me first” rhetoric that is spoken today.  There is a total lack of attention given to modern day slavery that far exceeds the 1800’s still deeply rooted in our country through pornography, patriarchal, and cultural exploitation. Where is the voice that cries out against the serious issues of injustice and basic human rights instead of inflammatory political jargon that only stirs up strife?

A personal salvation experience that says “I say the prayer, I get saved, I now go to heaven” isn’t found anywhere in the bible, or spoken in any way by Jesus. Instead, we see people coming to an awareness of the needs of their own sin and selfishness and bringing that freedom and passion to others for the sake of their families and communities. This is the norm in the majority of the world where communities stay in tact for generations. The early church risked their lives to share the gospel of Good News with the “other.”

Now we have the american dream well established in the church – not only do we get to live in prosperity and relative safety within our own home with our property, cars, possessions, family, and “church” cared for first, we also get to live this great life for an eternity because I confessed Jesus as my Savior, and hold to certain doctrinal truths and political ideologies. 

 

Could we have exchanged the law of love for “laws” of tithing 10% to the local church, how many bible scriptures we can quote, membership to our chosen denomination, faithfulness to Christ equated with regular church attendance?  All good principals, but often treated as laws.  Live by one law, then live by them all. Are we more worried safety from the “other” within my own home, church, community, and nation, than embracing the “other” for the sake of Christ? To live is Christ to die is gain. 

We have developed our own folk culture. One of the first things an educated missionary will do is study the culture, ideologies, and how a people group has come to believe the things they do, because their beliefs are the foundation for how they act. As we study the people groups we are involved with, we also have to examine our own closely held beliefs. It is always easier to see the misconceptions of others because our views are not what we are thinking about, but the grid and perceptions we think with.

My views have changed 180% over the majority of issues in the last 20 years because I have sought to see through the eyes of Christ despite my own desperately broken lenses. It’s not that I now think I am right – quite the contrary – I am willing to say that outside the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the historically and widely accepted truths of the doctrinal creeds – I may be quite utterly wrong.

If you had asked me fifteen years ago you would have heard quite a different story. You would have heard a self-righteous, arrogant, know-it-all, spewing my doctrinal truths, completely assured if was ever required to,  I would DIE for Christ. My kids were raised waiting for the “End Times,” to come, and told that to deny Christ with a gun to their head would mean hell for eternity. I now consider that emotional abuse and certainly NOT a gospel of Good News. I like to think that I would still die for Christ, but I’m not so afraid of hell anymore. Instead I am passionately trusting the God who loves me – more in love with Jesus than in fear of flames. I used to worry that I would be asked to choose between a confession of belief over my child, and scared to death that I may someday be forced to watch my child die that I may be “faithful” to Christ.

No greater love – If I was ever called upon to deny Christ to save the lives of my grandchildren or children, I like to believe I would risk hell instead. That is the greater love. Yet, in risking, I trust in the Amazing love of an Amazing God.

There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.

So where is our love being revealed in our culture today? Is it evident on social media and in sociopolitical and religious debates? Or are we still living a personal salvation in grasping our american dream ideology?

I would rather err on the side of grace and love and follow in the steps of the God-Man who came to earth, owned nothing for himself, and died to model that love –for all people, at all times, in all places, cultures and communities…than to hold up my shield of 57 years of white, female, middle class, educated, american, cultural folk perceptions.

Maybe I am completely wrong. 

He is Risen Indeed: Setting Women Free

The gospels all have slightly different versions of that glorious Resurrection morning when death was conquered once and for all. But one thing remains – the stone was rolled away from the tomb and we were set free, free, free. Women especially can rejoice in the breath of Life poured out on resurrection morning. 

tomb

Freedom

Without the cross there wouldn’t be a Resurrection and without the Resurrection there wouldn’t be a Christianity.  Without Christianity, Jesus would be just another man who lived and died, and the tomb would be something that sealed the grave of a nice but crazy man from Galilee who didn’t really deserve death. History would not have been irrevocably altered. Paul would not have spread the gospel which reached to the furthest corners of western civilizations.

Mom’s wouldn’t be teaching their little ones about the Risen Lord while they walk down dusty dirt roads, or reading the “Easter story” snuggling together on the couch before bed. Dad’s wouldn’t be complimenting their gussied up pretty girls on their way to Easter morning service, or straightening the tie of their little daddy look-a-likes.

tomb 3

Expectation

 

Easter represents a new life birthed from the freedom to love God and be loved by Him. The tombs that kept us captive in the “never-enoughs” and “too little’s” of our driven culture fall away as we live in expectation of the newness of life that God does in us, through us, and for us. 

The gentle winds of spring tickle with new life, stirring hearts that have grown cold from a long winter of where’s, and why’s, and how long’s. The stone is rolled away from the dead and barren of the I wants into the Living Spirit of  Your’e Enough. 

We witness lambs frolicking in joy and think about our Suffering Lamb, slain and Risen to breathe joy into our steps. 

The rolling away of the stone is an important element of the Resurrection story. The rolling away of the stone reveals that there is nothing of human flesh in the Resurrection story . It is the power of God from the cross to the grave, to eternity. The power of the Resurrection gives us life, but the rolling away of the stone exemplifies God’s setting us free to live that Kingdom life. 

In Christ’s Resurrected Freedom we witness –

Lent Love 1

Deliverance

God didn’t raise Him up and then say, “OK Son, I have gotten you this far. Now you are going to have to do some hard work to get free of the burden. Oops, sorry, my bad.” 

God removed the stone so that His resurrected Son, the God-Man, could walk freely into His new position of authority.

Winter often lasts for many years, sometimes a lifetime for the never-enoughs. They simply can’t move the stone leaving their deliverance ever so close, but behind impenetrable rock.

They can see it, touch it, feel the nuances of every groove with their fingertips, even smell the spring breeze flowing between the cracks, tempting them with thoughts of what if, but the stone barring the exit from the tomb is just too heavy to push completely out of the way. 

The stone rolled against Jesus tomb most likely weighed one to two tons. The stone was usually set at an incline that sloped down from the sides to the center,making it easier to close, but nearly impossible to open.  It was positioned on the outside of the opening to the tomb with no way to roll it away from the inside. It was too  heavy for a couple of women to roll away.

“When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.  And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.  And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’ And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed” (Mark 16:1-5). 

Take a good look at that picture, close your eyes and think about it. It is a dark place, cold, without sunshine. Thoughts begin to swirl with word like,  hopeless… weak… trapped… suffocating… impossible… never… abandoned…  I would freak out locked in there! 

A never-enough cannot roll away stones. 

Oh, dear sweet never-enoughs, we don’t have to. You don’t need to freak out over the darkness or difficulties. It doesn’t matter if you are without strength, feeling trapped, or left alone. There is a God who rolled away the stone. We not only get to walk from the tomb delivered, but we get to skip out in the loving embrace of Joy. Like lambs in springtime we have been set free. 

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance.

“But I am just a woman…” 

So were they.

And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. (Mark 16:6-7). 

The very first who were given the task of telling the Good News were women. The very first Evangelists were women!  No stone placed in front of us is too big for God to move when He sends us into His service.

Into Holy Love.

” Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone… He is not here, for he has risen… Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead… So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples… Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me” (Matthew 28, selected portions).

When Christ rose from the dead setting us free from the tombs of our minds and hearts he also us free to go.  We were commissioned by the Risen Lord into His purposes from the first moments. Now, pay attention that at that time, in that historic period, women were completely oppressed. The words of women were not respected so that even Jesus disciples who learned at His feet alongside women doubted the truth of their story. In Jesus speaking to them says something important – He said women were equally as important in spreading the gospel message.

Why do you think Jesus told women first? He could have waited. He set a precedent of freedom from gender oppression first at the tomb! He is Risen daughters, you are free!

Minds are free. Hearts are free. Lives are free. 

Bear with me as you read all the gospel accounts. We aren’t called just once into spreading the Good News to both men and women, but in all four gospel accounts. 

“He is not here, but has risen… Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them” (Luke 24). 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’Jesus said to her, “Mary.’ She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”   (John 20: 15-18).

Freedom. Expectation. Deliverance. 

Power. 

Fear not. God has moved the stone. 

 

 

 

 

Pain, Politics, and Necessary Silence

I have met so many people through my spiritual formation coaching, travels, and seminary who have the most painful tales of spiritual abuse and wounding by “the church.” Sexual abuse from weekly church attending relatives who after preaching fire and brimstone went home and violated the little ones they should have protected. The only witnesses were the terrified or those who chose to pretend it wasn’t happening. Others who were told by bible toting family members that God’s judgement or curses would fall upon them when they unknowingly dabbled in an “occult” practice such as Astrology, Ouija, or Tarot.

 

Then there are those who are picking up the broken pieces that are left from the hyper-faith or positive confession movements when they don’t understand why the things they claimed and proclaimed never happened. They were told it was a matter of “faith.”  Statements such as “I don’t know why it didn’t work for you, it has always worked for me,” leave them bleeding and broken instead of held up during a time of need.

When miscarriages, cancers, or catastrophic accidents followed, they were left alone to question if they done something wrong to “deserve” it. It was impossible to see a God of hope through the darkness of judgment.

NoNeedtoFear

“No Need to Fear” by Kathy Self  (www.colorbrush.com) 

 

As if our loving God would beat and break someone for doing something without any awareness of the implications. It would be like a parent doling out the harshest punishment to our children for doing something we had never instructed them about. Never even mentioned or imagined.

As if our God is holding up a faith stick to see and whoever performs the highest, prays the most, claims the loudest, or speaks the most positively wins the prize.

And sometimes, they find their way to me through my spiritual formation, coaching, or travels. And I hurt with them as my own wounds now healed enough to effectively minister to others are also open enough to feel their pain. I don’t ever want my wounds to fully close.

There are seasons I allow myself to withdraw inward to my safe place with Jesus and forget how utterly painful the world can be.  Closed up in my room with my bible and Jesus, I let him speak to the inner recesses of my heart. A planned escape into a silent retreat where God beckons from the chaos and confusion.  I decided this morning it was time for that season, and my silent retreat is just days away.

It feels good forgetting. Even just for a moment. God lives in moments of time suspended by eternal threads of hope. 

It was something that I was never able to do before as  traumatic images and words followed me into the spaces that I tried to forge out of sheer will.

Sheer will produces nothing. The peace that comes from God, also must come through God – through the Holy Spirit, our comforter. I can speak up a holy tornado of tongues, multiplying into a diverse and neat sounding cacophony of angelic noise, but silence was something that wasn’t modeled in all my years of charismata.

Inner silence is necessary to the presence of God in the day by day pain of living out a history that isn’t always happy. His small still voice which can’t be found in the quaking of “demanding” prayer. 

I found silence in the contemplative traditions and those who model it.  I can’t help but feel its absence in many of the busy, noisy, feel good churches of today. I can’t help but wonder if the contemplative tradition was taught more in the churches would we see more healing, and in response to healthy disciples, more love, more peace, and less self-defense.

Healing takes place in the silent and sacred spaces. The places where God can speak to our hearts without shouting. Sometimes it happens as He uses a human vessel to help facilitate the confession of pain. When trusted images bearers listen to the story of Lament in a persons life they bring the presence of God into the sacred space. That’s what journeying together as a community is all about.

I facilitate a meeting between God and his person. A meeting that is filled with transforming and healing love. Once you have been touched by the restorative and healing power of our magnificent God you know you will never be the same. You don’t want to be – it’s like being born again- again. And again. And again. With each step further into being, another piece of stony heart is tendered into flesh.

I am thankful I had facilitators in the silence with me. I still do – especially when unknowing and unthinking others trigger the pain of the past and trauma rears up and tries to re-wound what God has healed. 

For every kind word I have heard uttered in the name of Jesus I have heard as many unkind. The church is angry and getting angrier by the minute. Differences in doctrines, opinions, lifestyle, produce anger in a “I am wiser than you” kind of attitude. Everything from women’s roles to speaking in tongues,  evolution to worship styles, and yes, political candidates – have become an opportunity for me to tell you how I think you should act or feel. I will insist that you vote- but really I am insisting you vote for my candidate. What other one can there possibly be? My doctrine is the correct one, my opinions the right ones.

All the while they are proclaiming the direction the country should take through the political process, world economics, immigration issues, constitutional laws, healthcare, and the myriad of other intensely complex issues that are required to make an educated guess at the best options –  they are hiding behind words of the gospel message as the foundation for the absolute wisdom of God’s “truth.”

Many are willing to divide, judge and fight –  ensconced behind a wall of self-interpreted scriptural principals. In the last few weeks I have had two Christians from polar opposite sides of the political spectrum angrily tell me that the “bible clearly states…”. I must admit that the conservative side of the spectrum appears much angrier as they fight for more self-maintained freedoms over otherness. 

Then there are the beautiful places. The sacred places in church community where bleeding is met with as much care as if it were Christ’s – caught in a cup of tenderness, not covered over by a band-aid of cliches.

Where opinions are heard and hearts are held. 

Dallas Willard said, “Kingdom rightness respects the soul need of human beings to make their judgments and decisions solely from what they have concluded is best. It is vital, a biological need. We do not thrive, nor does our character develop well, when this need is not respected, and this thwarts the purpose of God in our creation” (Divine Conspiracy, 1997, 175)

For many of us, our convictions go deep. I spent most of my Christian life leaning towards passive non-resistance.. It is murky for me, and deep. I have five members of the military in my family including sons and daughters, and a son who is in law enforcement. I couldn’t be prouder or sleep better knowing what they do – and the God they do it for. They understand my conscience and I understand theirs. It goes beyond “agree to disagree” to a mutual respect and knowledge of each others deep love for God, and making “judgments and decisions solely from what [we] have concluded is best.”

I can’t find that “out there” right now in the world of social media, news, and unlimited community. It is time for the introvert to retreat into the secret place of the most high with the the lamenters I am compelled to serve, and just be for a while.

Maybe when I get back, people will be listening to each other…

soaring towards the light, soaring towards hope.

 

The above painting by Kathy Self so perfectly captures my life. Transformed out of the cocoon of darkness into the magnificence of a butterfly, soaring towards the light; moving out of the darkness of a cult and hyper-faith, as God so faithfully drew me “further up, and further in.” Check out Kathy’s web site for other beautiful and reflective pieces of art. 
(I apologize for typos – I really need a proof reader)

 

On Babies, Dogs, and God’s Little Rabbit Trails

I have officially become her. My mother. The one who talked to strangers in the grocery store line about things that were way too intimate and transparent for the general public. She used to talk about herself and others would open up to her. Random strangers would share their woes.

gods rabbit 6“Who are you?” I would think. “Must you talk to every tomato bearing elder, or toddler slinging mum you meet?” I tapped my foot impatiently as if just by her conversing with another human, the grocery lines would come to to a stop like some endless slow moving film.  I rolled my eyes at the need to share her story, or the safe portions of her story, while we stood waiting to hear “May I help who’s next?”

gods little 7Now I stand in grocery lines and look at the person waiting in front of me. The art of sharing my story was birthed by a women who was trapped inside the painful memories of a childhood that formed stories built upon cynicism. Though I could share in the same cynicism from my own childhood (*yawn* who doesn’t have wounds –  my childhood was far better than hers), now I gaze at the person in front of me because I am genuinely interested in her story.  

My story can wait. There may be a divine narrative needing to be encouraged in the stress lines of the face peering back at me. Some much needed mama encouragement as we walk together, image bearers trying to find the place that fills empty, aching, arms.

gods rabbit.jpg 5The reflection I see in the mirror, though it is different from my mums, stems from the same place of origin. Not just familial, but humanity’s. She has passed on to eternity and I have replaced her. I am now her.  Yet, fully me. A snowflake with a similar line here or there. I look like her. Sometimes I act like her. I still occasionally roll my ‘R’s with a remnant of Irish brogue. I am surprised to hear her laughter and realize it’s me. I remember details about her when she was my age. Details that seemed so old to a teenager with a lifetime to be lived. Now I look in shock at myself. I am at her place in life. I am her age. This can’t be me. I didn’t even see it coming. 

God's little 3When did I fall in this hole? When did I become my mother, and my daughter become me? When were my eight toddling wee babes replaced by twelve toddling to teen grandchildren? A family was my lifelong dream. It was all I ever wanted. Farm life. Animals. Family. Homebirth. Babies at my breast. The smell of freshly baked cookies and bread rising. I lived it to the fullest all the while finding the sacred in the mundane.

I have lived my dreams. 

 Now, like Beth in Little Women I wonder why “everyone has to go away.”

gods little 10

 

But… “I can be brave like you.” 

We all age. We all gain wisdom (hopefully). We learn that other people have stories, and if we are careful, if we have developed empathy, if we have learned to let go of controlling conversations, outcomes, or our own agenda’s – we can hear the divine narrative written on the pages of other image bearers.

My story is completely unique from anyone else’s. Everyone else’s is completely unique from mine. We run into trouble when we try to jump in with the, “I understand what that is like, I…” comments. No, you don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like for you either. We are all snowflakes, and snowflakes can’t be imitated. One of a kind.

gods little 12We aren’t comfortable in the silences. We feel threatened by stories. If I tell my story and rip open the flesh, separate the ribs, and expose my heart, it makes you feel insecure in the divine narrative woven throughout your own story. You don’t like the blood and guts. You want tidy, non-offensive, unchanging, and fully clothed. Beautiful. Serene. 

gods little 8My whole life was centered around raising my babies. I home-schooled, they married and lived nearby so that even the grand-kids became part of my day. Friends lived with us, stragglers came on weekends. It was a full house. 

One day, all of that changed. I thought I would be the old lady who had tea with my daughters while I helped them to can the abundance from their gardens. They would borrow books from my extensive home-school library and pick from my home-school career brain. The library has been mostly given away to the parents now carrying on the home-school legacy. Only one has a garden.

The rabbit hole is full of twists and bends. I was blinded to what was ahead. 

They had a divine narrative being spoken into their lives too and we can’t always predict the story line. It is their story line. It’s God narrative for them. 

gods little 9

(c) Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Yet, I find a space to cuddle in white fur. I have always loved dogs, but they made space for nursing babies and became “Nana” to my wee ones. Now I find myself developing the kind of companionship I had with fur before I knew the love of a child at my breast.  I have become one of those people. I have more pictures of my dog on my phone than my grand-kids. I text them to Dave and we laugh over becoming “those people.”

Dog’s love is as reckless as God’s in a creation not creator form. Our new little doggie girl was abused before she came to us via a rescue group as a “foster.” Slated to be euthanized, Big Fluffy rescued her and she landed with us. She would cringe if we reached too quickly towards her. She blinked her eyes waiting to be hit anytime our hand came near. My heart melted as her tail continued to wag, despite the obvious past inhumane treatment.  We “fostered” her with no intent of adopting her, but the day someone was interested, Dave closed the deal and she became ours.

I imagine Jesus must feel like that as he reaches for us at times. We wince and back away from Him, told the lies about a God who is more interested in our mistakes than our redemption.

daisy

Anyone who has experienced abuse and neglect will tell you that they remember forever when they were delivered from it. Maybe it was a day, maybe it was a season – the timing is different for everyone. There is a then and now. In Christ – there is a then and now narrative that plays out in all of our lives. Our little Daisy (who we call Piggy) is living out a then and now narrative in her little life. We see it as our little while love ball blossoms into our protector, keeping us from all harm. She shows her gratitude for being saved in how she loves. 

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She has her own redemption story – from the brokenness of man’s irresponsible and unkind folly, into redemptive life. We are the caretakers of God’s creation. Dominion means care, not abuse.

My Masters of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, has a concentration in “children at risk.” One big rabbit trail in my living intentionally dreams. It’s one big rabbit trail that I travel completely alone. No kids, no husband, no partners. Just me on the road down the Divine Academia Lane. Piggy sits faithfully next to me as I write papers and read endless amounts of books. I am completely engrossed and completely alive.

My prayer is that the knowledge I gain will better the lives of little image bearers and their moms – that I can make a difference. But I really hope to expand my own depth so I will see more of Christ and less of my mother when I look in the mirror. Less of me. I witness a broken world and a church that often is more concerned with self-preservation than laying down their lives.

gods rabbitI have finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. It’s more like Jesus. 

From babies, to strangers – maternal healthcare, children, infants, orphans, refugees, broken, bleeding… The world needs the love of God. They need to see the Jesus that lived. The Jesus that went about doing good and healing (and rescuing) all that were oppressed of the devil. Not the one that promises cars, money, mansions, and a perfect life if you have enough faith and “declare it.”  Not the one who turns a blind eye of fear to the plight of refugees, orphans, widows, the marginalized, or people from other religions. 

The Jesus who rescues them and who died that they may live. That’s the Jesus I wanna live like.

Jesus declares he is the way the truth and the life. He declares only Himself. He declares the Kingdom of God is at hand in Emmanuel.

Gods 14Jesus says, “Hey, follow me.” I have something really perfect written just for you. You are part and parcel of this divine narrative. You may not always like where I have to go. Sometimes it may even hurt a bit. There will be rabbit trails and sometime you may get lost. But don’t worry, I will never, ever lose sight of you, even if you fall down the rabbit hole. The only drink that will make you smaller is the one that makes me increase. It’s my magic potion of living water. Drink it with joy and it will reveal the divine narrative that I have written just for you.

God's Rabbit trails 2I have to the drink the potion. It’s time to grow up and leave home.

 

Brave Illusions

Winter, summer, drought, floods, sunshine, darkness, happiness, grief. Changing seasons.

Brave

Changing emotions. 

Days where we don’t feel quite so able to be real or authentic. Days that lack motivation and creativity. Days that lack the tangible presence of God when the heart needs to be wrapped in theophany. Days we simply don’t feel brave enough to face the endless toil needed to move us forward into the dreams and visions that propel us.

Days I wonder if I will ever desire to be authentic again, and brave enough to share it.

Seasons of disappointment. Seasons of accomplishment.

Will I feel inspired again? Will I be able to continue to co-author my story with God’s in a way that will bring him glory, and quite possibly help someone else? Is the call real?

Days we are afraid with genuine love comes genuine heartache. 

I’ve had those days recently. Today is one of them. The ups and downs of loss and gain exacerbated by the dreary New England winter days. I long for warmth. I long for sunshine.

I’m not feeling very brave.

Days run into weeks and I don’t write. The feelings are there. The thoughts are there. They are scattered. Not creative or well put together. A bit dark and cloudy like the sky. 

Emotions make us vulnerable (saying us instead of me makes me feel less vulnerable). Emotions show I am breathing, living, moving, loving. They open up the heart to a place that invites others to walk in. And walk on.

They open the heart to compassion. 

They open the heart to community. They open the heart to God. We can’t do this walk of life without others.

The very same others that overwhelm my introverted soul and make me want to hide out and watch re-runs of I Dream of Jeanie, or read books written by the very same others who have met my God in the dreary places too. 

The others that wear the face of God even when I’m not expecting to find Him there.

My theophany comes in the face of a sad child, an old woman in the vegetable aisle who sadly smiles from a well worn countenance. The Vietnam vet who loves God in the struggles of his addiction. The pastor who exposes his weary soul week after week with hungry nay-sayers.

I cling tightly to the words of Brennan Manning, one of my favorite others, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

I refuse to live an illusion in a world that is needing to be defined by the radical love of God.

This is my theophany. This is my Holy Spirit presence. It’s not always the happy, clappy, charismata of my youth and tradition, but the quiet peace of remaining true to myself as radically beloved by God. It’s a liturgy of love. 

Radically beloved by God. 

This is what I know. This is my reality.

So I blog the scattered thoughts of what I know. I will be brave. I will trust in the creativity of God when my own is lacking. I will hope his voice comes through when mine doesn’t. His voice continues to cry in the wilderness of souls “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Darkness is only an illusion. 

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”   Robert Frost

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Advent Surrender

Surrender

 To give control or use of something to someone else (Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary)

“…But you don’t know what he did to me…”

“…move again?”

“…my kids…”

To give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc… “He surrendered himself to a life of hardship. (dictionary.com)

“…actions speak louder than words…”

“…my boss…”

“…the weather…”

“…my church…”

Surrender

A very simple word with unimaginable implications.

I never understood just how big the word surrender really was until this morning. I was passing by my little table top nativity scene and pondered the little empty space among the sheep, waiting to be occupied by my little ceramic baby Jesus on Christmas Eve.

An infant. A tiny, helpless, vulnerable infant.

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It hit me like a spiritual truck.

Picture it – The creator of the entire universe, the God over all of eternity, the infinite, majestic Now who is beyond human comprehension or my fumbling words, humbles himself enough to become a helpless, vulnerable, dependent, drooling, crying infant.

Ultimate surrender

We see the scene everywhere this time of year as we sing songs about Emmanuel, God with us.

The Son of God, God incarnate – GOD – born to a human, among other humans.

 To give up control of something to someone else.

Jesus, giving up control to Mary, Joseph, teachers, neighbors… the Roman soldiers, Herod, Caiaphas…

God

From the moment it was ordained He would be born to die, He surrendered.

December is my sad month – it has been for many years. Yet, each year as I have sought God and embraced life with all of its ups and downs, joys and pains, and the ever flowing tide of change, the Advent season is becoming a time of peace.

Sadness and peace can and do co-exist.  

This December I was feeling sad, forsaken by a friend, taken for granted, missing my kids as I baked cookies alone, fretting over finances, grad school, our ministry losses, and dreading the thought of selling our home and the work involved in moving – yet again.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  Matt. 16:24-25

It always seemed like such a harsh passage and terrible burden; losing my life to save it, denying myself, taking up the cross of crucifixion. Really? What a harsh reality, this Christian life of disciples.

No, it’s not.

Our heavy burden was not only take from us, but he carries the burden and us. It’s not harsh, it’s not a burden. It’s actually quite simple.

Surrender

To agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting etc., because you know you will not succeed (Websters Collegiate Dictionary.)

Surrender

I understand the infant part – I know what it is to hold, nurture, care for, and protect my helpless babies. I know what it feels like to be willing to die if it means saving them. I have agonized when I can’t take their pain and carry it for them. I know what it is like to wrestle a toddler who doesn’t want his diaper changed, or to carry her screaming into the house and out of the storm, even though she wants to play.

Black and White baby Levi

I can surrender into safe arms like that. I can be God’s infant and stop fighting, resisting, or hiding because His arms are too big for me to fight against.

Surrender has nothing to do with our future actions, and everything to do with His past example.

When I am tempted to fret, I will gaze upon the manger and resist the temptation to hide from the One who loves me best.

Advent has taught me Surrender.

The un- Faithfulness of God

One of our sons had a potentially deadly car accident last week. After a long night of work, sleep deprived, and suffering a bad head cold, he found himself facing off with a semi-truck – an “eighteen wheeler.” The truck flipped and exploded and his small car was totaled, but mercifully no one was significantly injured. My son tore some ligaments in his ankle and will be in a type of cast for a little while – minor under the circumstances.

god is love 2

I only mentioned it to a few people for various reasons. First, everyone was fine, and I was respecting my son’s privacy. There was no fault or wrongdoing, it just happened. My other hesitation in telling others, was because of the common response when you share a story with a happy ending,

“God is faithful.” 

Yes, God is faithful, God is just, God is merciful, God is kind, God is long-suffering, God is patient, God is compassionate, God is love, God is…

And if my son had been more seriously injured or killed, God would still be all of the above and more. 

To claim the faithfulness of God only in reference to happy endings, good times, and “blessings,” is to deny His very nature. It is a very American God. God is love. (I John 4:8,16) He is always love.

He doesn’t cease to be love in the face of suffering. He is not un – faithful in face of loss or devastation. 

God was merciful last week, He was present, and He was not caught unaware, but humans make choices, make mistakes, suffer illness – humans are humans and good things and bad things happen in life.

God was faithful when our beloved son’s life was spared last week and God was faithful when our beloved son died in 1990. Two sons with two different results, one God with eternal purpose.

God is faithful – at all times, in all situations. 

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I spoke with a friend recently who lost a nephew in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. We briefly touched on the pictures and statements that float around the internet bestowing the faithful and miraculous intervention of God to save lives on September 11th. What about the thousands who died? I have to agree – once again it claims God’s present faithfulness in the miraculous of saving lives but his absence in hardship.  ( God in suffering )

God resides in suffering as much as in joy. I believe, He is even more present when we need Him the most – even more “faithful.” We may not feel it, we may not want to think about it, we may want to curse God and die, but He is still faithful towards us.

The faithfulness of God is a prevailing theme in the bible, one that is far too extensive to cover in a blog post. The Psalms are filled with the faithfulness of God as a source of hope and encouragement after dark times with a, “but will I trust in you.” David lamented through the faithfulness of God continuously.

In the book of Lamentations, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah spoke about God’s faithfulness to restore. (The definition of lament is a passionate response to grief or sorrow.) Even though the destruction had been prophesied and promised due to their disobedience, the covenant of God’s faithfulness was sufficient for Jeremiah to encourage hope in the people of Israel.

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,                                                         ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” 

But we have Christ so all of the promises of God are yes and amen in Him, right?

Yes! The promise is that He will be present with us in all of our suffering, and hardship, and blessings, and goodness – all things. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:39) He was with Paul in prison, exiled, and put to death. He was with Stephen stoned. He was with the Saints in the upper room.

When we proclaim the faithfulness of God in reference to deliverance only, we expunge hope in the Good News as life changing and life sustaining.

It is easy to believe in a God who will reward us with all good things, but necessary to know the God who sustains us through all things. 

God is faithful. He can’t be otherwise.

The Message of the Cross in the Face of a Child

“I don’t want anything else from this world. Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.”
Refugee 1

Compassion has a face. Love has a voice. Action has a motive. Christ. 

We are all strangers in a strange land, pilgrims passing through.                   (Full story here:  News )

He only wanted a life for his family, fleeing from a country where over 11 million people have been displaced since 2011 and a hundreds of thousands have died. Surrounding countries such as Iraq, are facing their own civil wars and terrorism.

crisis 3

Where would you go? He tried to go to Canada to join his sister through legal immigration means, and they were denied.

What would you do to save your littles?

It is so easy for us to miss the living, breathing, brokenness of real life, amidst the abundant sterility of our well-kept lives. The faces of refugees are not sterile, or well-kept, but desperate and stricken.

They were just little boys, the same ages as some of my grandsons.

Refugee 2

In the face of Galip, I see my four year old Hector, who just started Kindergarten last week. I bought him a backpack with the image of a shark on it.  It is an,  “I love you, work hard in school,” gift of my love. I’ve never had to think about keeping his head above water as we struggled to stay alive. I don’t have to worry about a bombs exploding overhead.

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Galip should be picking out a backpack and jumping with excitement over the big yellow buses that go by. He should be grinning from ear to ear as he picks up his new box of crayons and shows them to papa with pride. He should be looking forward to Christmas and the shiny light shows that North America displays. His aunt should be able to see the snowflakes reflected in his eyes as he gazes in rapture at his first downy sight. He should be visiting museums and learning about Pirates, U.S. History, and tasting freedom and safety. 

Hector 1

In the image of tiny two year old Alyan, I see our little grandson David Grubb.

refugees 3

I can’t look at the image of Alyan’s lifeless body, lying face down on the beach, without weeping. He should be smelling flowers, and growing up to the  questions of “why?” “Why do they have so many cars mama?” “Why is it so green?” He should be swinging on a swing saying, “higher!” or playing in a sandbox with his mother hovering nearby, her eyes full of the wonder of raising a toddler. Instead her eyes are closed, forever, and her husband holds the images of pain for a lifetime as they were buried in the very place he tried to flee from.

I would have taken them all into my home so they would not be a “burden” to society. David would have housed them, and clothed them, fed them, loved them, and helped them to find a new life. He would have held their toddler so mama and papa could explore an evening in their glorious new beginnings. In doing so, maybe they would find their life in Christ. (The sad implication of our financial changes as result of David’s former loss of career with IBM, isn’t in our own lack of need, but in our inability to help and house the hurting.)

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In helping others, we are helped. In loving others, we are loved. In teaching others, we learn the many things education can’t provide. In giving, we receive gifts that no amount of money can purchase. The things that the Donald Trumps’ of the world are lacking in – a Kingdom vision.

People are often shouting about the sins of America in terms of external issues of morality, and what we need to do become a great nation again. Maybe the wicked ways we need humble ourselves and pray about (2 Chron. 7:14), are not the things that America is doing, as much as what we are not doing, caring for widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor, and revealing a nation full of compassion towards all of God’s image bearers. (Duet. 24:17, Exodus 23:9, Duet. 27:19, I John 3:17, Is. 58:7-10 to name a few.)

Jesus was moved with compassion towards all people, at all times; outraged only at those who were more interested in the preservation of themselves and their historic religious identities. Acts 10:38 says it clearly,

“You know the story of what happened in Judea. It began in Galilee after John preached a total life-change. Then Jesus arrived from Nazareth, anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, ready for action. He went through the country helping people and healing everyone who was beaten down by the Devil. He was able to do all this because God was with him.   (The MSG)

We are all refugees in a foreign land seeking a safe place to rest our heads, be free from struggling, and find peace in this fleeting moment of time.

For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. I Chron. 29:15 (ESV)

With issues of sovereignty, it’s crucial that we remember we are all just passing through the place we temporally call home. We are here to glorify God and to grow His Kingdom, with disciples who are relentlessly pursuing Him. We should be radically altered in that pursuit so we are transformed to reflect the character and nature of Jesus!

 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,   Phil 3:20 (ESV)

Maybe our “passions” as American citizens of heaven, need to be re-aligned.

 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.  I pet 2:11 (ESV)

Let us all be people of grace to the Alyans’ and Galips’ of the world. Let’s not appear before God as a nation whose sin was to stand by and idly watch the suffering of others, engorged by our own gluttony, as we turn our eyes from suffering.

Maybe that is the message of the cross.

Restless

restless 2

Supreme Court decisions, over 1,000 people have died of heat stroke in Pakistan, one convicted killer is shot in upstate NY as another one is pursued, nine people murdered in a church shooting, innumerable natural disasters, religious persecutions, pandemics, failing economies, terrorists attacks…

All must answer to a Higher power.

Personal difficulties surround all of us – death, loneliness, physical illness, depression, job losses, relocation’s, difficult relationships, the loss of love, the loss of dreams…

The worst loss is the loss of dreams, which encapsulates all other losses – fear encompassing all other emotions. The future looks dim…

The future is God. 

Augustine is one of the most important theologians in the church, to both Protestants and Catholics. His “Confessions”  reveal our deepest longings, his words the cry of our hearts,

“You awake us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in you.”

For the majority of my “Christian” life, all of the turmoil of this world captured me with worry for the future of our children and grandchildren. It prodded me with the need to do more, say more, and help more – always striving to play a part in turning what was wrong in the world into what was right.

I was restless to the depths of my soul with concern for this world. Psalm 139:7

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”

The earth is the Lords. Everything that was created was created by Him. There is no where we can go, nowhere we can hide that His presence is not with us.

Always.

At all times. 

As disciples of Christ we also have the fullness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within in us.

The Spirit dwelling in us. 

God present everywhere outside us.

Jesus interceding for us. Walking with us.

God is not taken by surprise when distressing things happen around us, or to us. His light shines most brightly in the darkness, but we fear the darkness.

We are blind in the dark, but God is Light. He is present in the darkness to break the fear and cast off the shadows. As Augustine said, God created us for Himself. We cannot flee from His presence because of His great love.

The only place of rest is in Him.

One of my top five favorite songs – powerful in its theology, moving in its simplicity, and reflecting the heart of the devoted believer, is Audrey Assad’s Restless. She wrote it based on the above writing of Augustine. I listen to this song almost daily now, as I remind myself not to allow the things happening in the world, or in my life to make me restless. My restlessness has become the unsettled feeling I have when I am not knowing God’s presence of God experientially, as much as theoretically.

Every moment of every day. 

Only when I stay in His presence –  in me, around me, and sustaining me, that I feel peace and my restless soul finds rest.

This video may very well be the best five minutes you could ever spend, as Audrey sings about the Restless cry of our hearts. 

My heart longs for God in ways that are beyond words. It took me twenty-eight years of “Pentecostal/ Charismata” much speaking to realize I would rather listen to Him speak, than to speak before Him. I bask in fearful wonder as He embraces the cries of my heart and consumes my prayers.

Close your eyes and listen to the voice of angels sing.