"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Friday, December 31, 2010

Year of Presence

In my reading this week, I was moved to consider "naming" this coming year. What might be the theme of this coming year? What might my Father be whispering? What might be His prodding, His nudging, His whispers into my heart?

Immediately when thinking and praying on this, I instantly knew... I know.

This year, this 2011, is about presence. The year of presence. The year of the now, the here, and the present.

I miss so much in my life. I miss special moments and sacred spaces... I miss them, like a blink or a breathe.

And, I miss them mostly because I am not "present". I am not aware. I am occupied with other thoughts, other times ...past or future, other tasks and other ventures. I am processing and planning. I am worrying or wondering. ...I am bored or feeling guilty. ...I am offended or concerned that I offended another. What ever it is that is keeping me away, so often my mind and my heart are not present in the "now" or in the moment.

Is it the laundry basket full that needs to be done? or the email that needs to be written? Is it the friend or the family member that is taking my thoughts far away from the moment? Is it the television, the music or the computer? ...whether right, wrong, silly, indifferent or amoral... whatever it is, it so often keeps me from the now.

I want to learn to be more alive now. ...more present in each moment. ...more connected to the present and the current. I want to experience my "nows" more... I long to know each moment and be alive to Him, His Presence, and to connect to others', their presence.

This is the theme I believe He is giving me this year. The year of the of the now. The year of Presence.

Father, teach me. Teach me to be fully alive, fully aware, fully given to You and to others... and to myself ... in the now. Help me. Father, ignite my soul, my mind and my heart to be aware of those things that tug for my attention. May I give myself entirely to the tasks, the people, the places, and the things that you give me each day... each moment of each day. Teach me, Jesus. Teach me Holy Spirit. O Father, teach me.
"I miss living this moment because my head’s already moved into the next moment — the one that isn't even here yet — and when I am not in this moment but trying to shove into a moment that doesn't even exist — I miss out on living at all. I may bodily be in this space but I am not even alive. Could I be walking through the years but not even be alive? There’s a dishcloth in my hand. The skin of my hand is the border of me in time, my skin the way of keeping me within the frame of now. Is this why God puts us who are souls into bodies? To keep us in this moment? My body is my boundary, keeping my soul in this space. I take a deep, long breath. This moment comes straight down. I’m at the brink of another year and I really want to live… and this moment here is the only one I can live in." ~Ann Voskamp at aholyexperience.com

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God's Solutions

I am a planner. I am a "solver" by nature. I organized and manipulate data. I figure it out and work it through. I think and I analyse. I make lists and check them off... and then make new lists when the old list gets too short.

I believe God has made me this way. I believe that part of His divine knitting was this very aspect of my personality and gifts. He made me a multi-tasker and a planner. And, I think He is pleased by this part of who I am ...

And, I also believe that this very gift-aspect of His creative hand gets in the way of my relationship with Him. ...almost daily. In this, I am certain He is sometimes displeased or, in the least, saddened.

When a problem comes my way, or even just as small obstacle, I very naturally decide how to overcome that problem. Again, I begin my list-making and planning. And, I do this time and time again without God. Entirely void of a simple pause to invite Him in, I go on with a knee-jerk reaction and take charge. Often, I act out of some false, deep belief that "I [you] shall be like god" (Genesis 3:5). I decide what is good and evil, take my course of action and go my own way. Essentially, I use my god-like creating abilities to make all things "right". ...right in my own eyes, that is.

Now, because my Father in Heaven is deeply loving and always faithful, He often rescues me or even blesses me even though, or "inspite of". And, this sweet grace is beyond perplexing to me! Often, He does allow my plans to be fruitful and my organizing (even without Him) to prosper.

And yet, ...and yet... I miss out on Him. I miss out on doing it with Him. I miss out on relationship! And, I also think I often miss His best... His solutions, His ways, His very best plan. And, in this, my plans are a just settling. When I forget Him, I settle for second best. I settle for action devoid power, plans devoid His wisdom and activity devoid relationship.

Recently, I have wanted this to change. I have really, deeply wanted it to be different. And, this year, I have attempted to stop the natural planning... and simply to ask God to "solve it".

In this I have asked God to help me to remember, to pause, and to ask for His solution. ...and even better yet, to just simply "solve it". And, He has!! He really has done this for me.

Simple things. Small things. Big things. Silly things ...I have seen Him solve them. I have stopped. Waited. Prayed. Hoped. And, I have asked for His solutions. "Father, You are going to have to solve this one!", has been my prayer. And, it has been sweet to watch Him work.

I certainly don't entirely "get it". I am far from daily practicing this surrendered-reliance on Him. And, I believe He still wants me to use my skills, my gifts, and my Hand-Created personality. But, I really believe my Father wants to do it all... all of life ... with me. He wants to do life, and all it's obstacles, together.

And, His solutions are just best. Better.

You should get into the habit of falling on your knees and spreading out your needs in front of God the moment you have an emergency or become frightened. Prayer is the very best medicine there is. It always works and never fails if you would just use it! - Martin Luther

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The God given Pause

While reading this morning in a poignant book, God in the Yard, I was stirred by her discussion of Sabbath. The "pause".

Sabbath pause denotes trust. The ability to stop and leave it... is an act of trust. And, I don't do that well. It is hard for me to "let it lie" or "leave it for tomorrow". L.L. Barkat, in this sweet testimonial book, reminds the reader that Sabbath was not meant only for renewal or rest either. We can't go into the Sabbath with our "productivity" hats on and do it ---do the Sabbath thing---so that we will be well-rested and ready for the week... that puts productivity as the goal. Once again, the "tasks" or the "work" are the focus.

This one is not easy for me. I don't "let go" of things very easily and work, tasks and productivity are top on my list of difficult things to set down.

Sabbath is a pause. A moment in the week where I stop. I trust. I rest. And, I worship. Simply put, I "waste time with God". (Hmmm... my next book pick, I think, must be Wasting Time with God by Klaus Issler!)... okay, grabbing that one off the shelf.

So, today I choose to trust and today I decide to take a long pause. A long Sabbath... Stop the incessant, never ending work on the laundry pile, stop the email and facebook... and stop the blog. Stop the vacuum and the mop and the dishes and ... well, just stop. And, trust. And watch, wait and listen.

(Don't worry I will keep feeding my family... but we might be eating a lot of microwave quesadillas and spaghetti from a jar! ...smile)

A few days to pause. A few days to Sabbath. A few days for Advent.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Despite the Rocks

So, I went on a walk the other day.

While walking, my random thoughts became prayer, a light-hearted conversation with my Father ... "wandering prayer" some might call it.

As I headed toward the coast, my walk took me between two fields. Only months before, on this same walk, I had watched the farmer bailing hay and carting it to the barns. Both fields had been harvested and cut down to dirt. This day, as I walked, I noticed that new growth was peeking through. I noticed that the fields no longer looked dark and brown; but, instead the field was a vibrant "new" green. In amazement at this growth, smack dab in the midst of winter (at -2 degrees below!), I wondered at how this land--- in this country I am living--- this land just MUST be green. It can't help but be green.

It doesn't seem to matter the temperature, the time of year, or the rain... Green just pushes forth from the ground and grows!! And, it is beautiful.

I still remember the first time I visited this country and saw the small, tender, colorful flowers peeking through freshly fallen snow. I was amazed then. I am still amazed at God's creation that just keeps pushing through!

As, I commented (half to myself and half to the Lord) about this "must" growth, I felt the Spirit of God speaking softly to my heart, to my mind.

You are growing and green, Stephanie!, He seemed to be whispering in response to my half-hearted, wandering prayer.

With this thought, instantly, I was moved within. I was filled with joy! I am growing, aren't I, Father?! The thought sprung from my heart with encouragement and joy! Yes, Stephanie, you are! You are green with life and growth, seemed to be the non-worded, Spirit-"words" to my heart.

In that moment, on that walk, I felt secure in His growth in me. I felt loved and known. I felt that indeed the faith I have been asking for was greening and the trust that I have been longing for was growing! It was a sweet moment.

And, then, ...as if there was a divine "but"... my eyes noticed something else in the field. As I kept walking along the fields and wandering in prayer with my Father, I noticed that these verdant fields were full of rocks. Dotted, scattered, throughout the whole of the field were many, many rocks.

Rocks? My mind paused. The picture just didn't seem to compute. Wouldn't the field grow better and stronger, if there were no rocks??

Yes, it would.

Doesn't the farmer want those gone? And, wouldn't he be working to rid this field of rocks?

Yes, he would. And, He is.

Oh, Father, I have rocks in my soul, too. Don't I?

Yes, my Stephanie, you do. Many rocks.

And so went this tender, wandering conversation with my Father. As His Spirit spoke to my heart and I ask questions. I waited and walked. I pondered and prayed. And, very quickly, I could articulate those rocks in my soul or at least a few of them. I have many.

I am growing. As I walk in His strength and sit in His love, He MUST grow in me. He just can't keep from growing! He can't help but spring forth and shine through. And, He does this... just like those luscious fields... despite the rocks. But, He still wants those rocks dealt with and gone. And, so do I.

So, I will keep walking. And, keep talking and wandering with my Father, a good Farmer. ...and working on those rocks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I am sending Me.

I had to stop and read the verse a second time. No, three times through! Was it really saying what I thought it was saying? The third time through, I found myself quietly chuckling, laughter rising up, as I realized what I was reading!!?

In Zechariah 2, the Lord Almighty speaks through the prophet. God, Himself, says, '"Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you," declares the Lord.'

The Lord Almighty tells the people that He is coming. He, the Lord Almighty, will live among them! What an amazing concept! Who would have ever predicted that?! And, it gets even better...

In verse 12, the Lord Almighty continues His words to the people, '"Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.'

Did you read that?

I just must write it again! My fingers must type these words a second time!

I will live among you (says the Lord Almighty) and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you"

What? The Lord Almighty sends the Lord Almighty to live among the people so that they might know the Lord Almighty!

Isn't this just a beautiful picture of the Trinity... or at least a clear picture of two parts of the God-head!! I was stunned. And, awed.

When Jesus came to earth, (and even today) many people were okay with him being a prophet. Many people were perfectly comfortable with him being the Messiah, in fact. But, very few ... very few... were okay with the idea that Jesus was God.

The fact that He claimed to be the Son of God was troubling to most. Then and now. But, from the beginning... from the Prophets to the angel's very words to Mary ... it was clear Who was coming. Jesus, that babe born in Bethlehem, was the Emmanuel of God! Mary was to give birth to the Savior, to God's Son. He was God in flesh.
Jesus was the fulfilment of Zechariah's prophecy, God's words, spoken over 500 years before the birth of Jesus.

Jesus was the Lord Almighty who was sent by the Lord Almighty so that I would know the Lord Almighty! Stop and read that again. Are you amazed with me?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Great Cloud of Character

Tonight we watched our every-Christmas-must-watch DVD, The Nativity.*

While watching and now as I sit thinking, I am struck by the character of Joseph. He had to be an incredibly strong man. God's choice of Joseph as Mary's husband was no accident. This dear man that God called to be father to Jesus must have been a man of deep faith, strong conviction and steadfast perseverance. Is this why he was chosen?

Mary had an angel visit her and still her road wasn't easy. But, Joseph listened to a dream. A dream. An angel appeared to him in a dream. Not just once, but twice. And both times the angel told him to do HUGE things... the first time to marry a pregnant girl in faith, and second to take this wife, this newborn baby and travel 200 or so miles to Egypt, fleeing in the night.

A dream. He believed and walked forward with faith ...all because of a dream.

Sometimes I am utterly amazed at the faith of these that walk the journey before me. The Abrahams, the Moseses, the Esthers, and the Joesphs... they amaze me. They didn't live in a time when the Spirit of God sealed, indwelt and strengthened. They didn't have the Holy Spirit within them to lead them into all truth. As far as I can see in Scripture, the Spirit came and went at very unique times. And, yet they believed.

I know we are fond of saying they were just ordinary people like me. And, I also know that we so clearly see their mistakes and sins on the pages of Scripture. But, tonight, I am amazed at these, my brothers and sisters, this great cloud of witnesses. And, I want to follow hard after these Marys, these Peters and these Pauls.

I am challenged by the faith of those I see in Scripture that faced death because of belief. I am stirred to awe by the faith of those who have gone before me who loved God more than life... more than wealth, sons, daughters or anything.

When faced with scorn, how do I respond? When faced with death, what would I do? When asked to bow down or be thrown to lions, what would my response be? I don' t know. I really don't know.

Even more challenging, though, is the "what ifs" that have me walk forward in faith. Not just the reactionary do-or-die situations. But, the dreams. The whispers of the Spirit. The visit of an angel.

Am I strong enough to listen to a God-given dream. Am I willing to struggle with neighbor, friend and family because "an angel appeared to me in a dream"? Am I willing to flee in the night, risk safety and health to run because "an angel appeared to me in a dream"?

As I write this, my heart cries out from my deepest parts, Yes! I want to love God that much, be attentive to his voice that much, ...I want to follow Him that faithfully.

Do this in me, dear Father! Make me the one you might choose... make my character strong, my faith secure and my perseverance like Yours.

______________
*For our family, this movie is too intense for my 11 and 8 year old children. In my opinion, this is a fabulous, encouraging, and deeply moving film for adults or older teens.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mary's Sight

I can't imagine the scorn that Mary received when she became pregnant. It is a struggle to put myself in her place. I can hardly imagine the looks, the words, and the curses that were spoken over her when that bump in her midsection began to grow. What might it have been like for this young, unmarried 1st century Jewish girl?

What might it have been like for Mary? For Mary's family? For Joseph? It is hard to imagine.

I have often wondered how she endured the dishonour and hostility. I can struggle so significantly with the opinions of others. The affect of people's words and actions can be so powerful, for good and for bad. I wrestle regularly with caring entirely too much about what others say or think about me... and so, when I think of Mary, when I think of pregnant, teenage, un-wed Mary... I wonder how she coped.

I read Mary's song today and I prayed it through. As, I read and prayed, I was deeply struck by her statement early in the song (Luke 1:48) "From now on all generations will call me blessed".

She seems to be seeing far beyond her current situation. She seems to be rooted in a hope that stretches far beyond her "today".

Is this a sign as to how Mary coped and how she managed all the murmurs she might have heard? Was it that she simply saw with faith-filled eyes a time beyond?
I wondered if Mary's future-minded perspective was the foundation for her willingness to surrender and a rock for her perseverance. I imagine a God given ability to look ahead, to fix her eyes on thing unseen ---future generations---, which allowed Mary to walk steadily ahead. She rejoiced in her "circumstance". She praised God for her lot in life. It was truly "well with her soul".

Tonight I find myself challenged by Mary to look ahead and think about the truth of generations to come. I am encouraged by her faith to see her situation as a blessing. I am moved by her expectation, her hope, and her certainty that good would come. Tonight I long to worship my Father, Almighty God, just as Mary did. "My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Drunken Hymns bring Hope

I went to a charity ball last night. Yesterday, all day long, I asked Jesus to go with me to the party. I asked Him to remind me of His presence and to be with me as I dressed, as I ate, as I talked and as I danced.

Gowns and jewels. Tuxedos and styled hair. Christmas lights and a tinselled tree. Dancing and dessert. This was an event!

The time came for the traditional "Carol singing" and my mind began to stagger. Could I join them in song? Could I sing out these deeply meaningful words, while surrounded by party mayhem?

As the singing commenced, I began to wonder...

What might Jesus think while He listens and watches words about His birth being sung with indifference? Almost unconscious movement of lips, ...apathetic reading of a words on a page, ... an all-too familiar tune plunked out on an old piano... What is it like for Him to watch?

What might He feel as words fall off drunken lips, Christmas hymns sung loudly and with brash undertones? What do these voices sound like to His ears? What might we look like as we mix our raffle tickets, beer bottles, "Jingle Bells" and "Little Town of Bethlehem".

What might Jesus think or feel as the room full of 'happy', well-dressed and overstuffed people sing about what those herald angles "harked" that momentous night? When they sing with gusto about that newborn King who bring God and sinners together, ...God and sinners reconciled!... what might my King be feeling?

I watched last night as this party of people, wild and tipsy, belted out the carols of Christmas. I watched and wondered. And, I asked Him what He might be feeling... And, I prayed.

His answer surprised me. And, my heart was filled with joyful prayer! With an odd sense of excitement and hope, I prayed that He would make Himself known to even just one heart that night. Would someone sing, "Silent night, Holy Night. Son of God, love's pure light" and think, even for one significant moment, about that Son of God? Or might one soul, even for one piercing minute, wonder about the Who that is Love! Might they wonder what kind of love it is that possesses and gives pure light?

Touch even one soul, Lord. Bring one moment of awakening, Lord!

Last night, I watched. I sang. And I prayed. And, I waited... knowing that I was asking something that was deeply on His heart.

Today I sing and I pray. I watch and I wait. What will He do, this faithful One, we sing about each Christmas? I wonder and I wait. Advent season at it's best!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Transplant

I have a six year old friend, Adah, who is suffering. She has Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). Deadly cancer cells filled her bones and the bad was overcoming the good in her little body. The cancer was wreaking havoc on her frame from the inside out.

Today her little sister gave her a priceless gift. Today a piece of sweet Claire was drawn out and given to Adah. A gift was given to this precious girl. A gift beyond measure.

From Claire's clean bones were drawn healthy cells to fill up Adah's empty bones. For the last few months Adah's body has been blasted with poison... a good poison. A poison was pumped into her little body to empty out those ugly, evil, twisted cancer cells. And now, clean... life giving blood flows into the empty bones.

Like a victorious army of strong warriors, these healthy cells valiantly enter Adah's body... armed by God to replace all bad with the good.

Following these friends in prayer, I have been so struck these past days of how Adah's story is such a vibrant picture of Christmas.

At one time, my body, my bones, my very soul was dead... dying. Sin, sin's curse, sin's disease coursed through my veins. My stone heart pumped nothing but death into my being. The bad had certainly overcome the good in my sin saturated spirit. Sin wreaked havoc from the inside out.

One clean man, my brother Jesus, gave me a life gift. He gave me a gift beyond measure. He left His heaven and entered earth. And, He came to die. He came to give. He came to pour out. From Him was drawn clean blood. He spilled out healthy, sinless cells. He replaced my stone heart with a fleshly, healthy, Spirit filled heart. And, now, righteous blood flows in my being. I am a new creation! I am clean. To my very Spiritual marrow, Jesus has replaced my sick cells with clean ones.

Today Adah slept and slept. She slept as her sister's blood coursed through her body. She did nothing today but receive.

22 years ago, I surrendered. I "slept" in His arms as He replaced my blood with His. I have done nothing but receive.

This God-man, my Jesus, became flesh. He lived here in this sin-stained world. And, he remained pure. He died a sinless death and sacrificed Himself... a sweet, beautiful piece of Himself to be poured out for me. His very life blood now courses through my life.
*************
Would you stop a moment and ask Our Father to allow Claire's bone marrow, her healthy cells, to bring all the health and wholeness that Adah's body needs? Please ask with me that Adah would be completely healed and whole again~ For His glory! For Your Glory, Lord.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Watching Pain

I am watching pain. All around me, on every side, I am watching and witnessing pain. And, when I keep my eyes turned toward the pain, allowing it to touch me,... it is excruciating. It hurts to watch.

It is no wonder we go stiff or uncomfortable when someone is hurting. It is no wonder we tell people, "don't cry" or say trite things like, "I understand" or "praise God..." or "it is only temporary". It is no wonder that Job's friends could only remain silent for a time and the just had to speak...

We hurt when we watch it, and we feel the need to fill the space or make it better. or... do something to make it go away. Sometimes I just want to make the pain stop and pretend it isn't there.

When we feel another's pain, and allow it to touch us, it is excruciating. And, we don't know what to do with this pain. We don't know what to do with tears when they are shed in our presence. Sometimes we want to run from the pain...

Isn't it easier to just turn our heads and ignore it? We escape. Sometimes we take the sight and shut it away into a locked place within... or throw it out entirely, dismiss it and close our eyes.

Our world, our sin soaked world, is so engulfed by pain! Our earth groans and moans. We know it when we take a moment to look, to read, to listen... or to just let them cry. And, when we let them cry or share or moan, it touches a place of pain in our souls that is excruciating.

Christ wept over Jerusalem. He sat on that donkey and wept. The people around Him cried out, "Hosanna". Praise rang out around Him... But, He didn't smile in that moment. He knew the pain as He entered Jerusalem. Looking forward and knowing the lost souls, His broken brothers and sisters, He wept.

And, then He entered in... He cried for Jerusalem... and still, He rode on. He road into the pain that day. He didn't turn the donkey around and escape. In tears, He moved forward toward the pain.

He wept that day in the garden... knowing full well the cup He must drink. He wept and prayed and asked the Father to take it away. ...make it stop! ... but, still, He got up and entered in.

We know from Hebrews that He did this because, while tasting the pain, He also knew the joy that awaited Him. He knew the joy that awaited us. But, He still had to choose to enter into the pain, to let it touch Him, and to be hurt... deeply wounded ...

He had to endure the pain. He got up from that garden prayer and walked forward to carry the cross. He let it touch Him.

Teach me, Jesus. Help me to learn from You, my humble brother. Teach me to endure the pain, to face it, to walk toward it. Help me to not try to fix it, to answer it, or to ignore it. Help me to enter in and carry my cross. Remind me of the joy that is before me, before my family and before my friends. Teach me, Jesus, to let the pain touch me this Advent season.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Angry Storms

It says in Matthew 8, that the storm came up without any warning. No warning. The disciples were just boatin' along and whamo... a storm.

Do you ever feel that way?

It says that the storm was furious. The storm was mad. An angry storm came upon them without any warning. They weren't ready for it. And, when it came... it was angry.

Isn't this how some circumstances feel in our lives sometimes?

When these storms come up... that fevered child at midnight, that unexpected medical bill, that loneliness hits, that nasty look from your pre-teen, that sick family member, that temptation tugs, or that "one more thing!" that has to be done today...

When these storms come without warning and with fury, we respond just like the disciples did in rocking, tussled boat.

The storms hit, large or small, and we cry out!! "Help! Save me!"

And, then, our next natural response is to prophecy. Don't we look at the wind, the waves, and the rocking boat and our future goes all dark and dreary. We predict our bleak future, "We are going to drown!" (Matthew 8:25)

I am going to drown here! Do you ever say that?

These are real problems. And, sometimes waves mean disaster. Storms can hurt. This storm in Matthew 8, was dangerous. In Luke, the same storm is discussed and true, eminent danger is written about.

It was scary. It was actually dangerous.

And, we get afraid. We scream, "Help me!" and we can only see dismal and dark ahead.

... that fever hurting that child, that bill not being paid, that sick family member dying, that never-ending and forever loneliness, that pre-teen rebelling, that fall to temptation, and that "one more thing" not getting done... or us breaking under the weight of it all. We only see and think, "we are going to drown!!"

The truth is, though, while we do need a mild rebuke... as did the disciples, "you of little faith. why where you so afraid!" (vs. 26). While we need a repositioning of perspective and light shown into our minds, hearts and souls; what we really need... and what He gives us... is deliverance. We need Him to show up, to stand up! We need to be reminded of Who He is, that One in the boat with us.

We need Him to speak. We need Him to rescue us.

We need His voice to speak to that furious storm and say, "shhh!". We need Him to get up and say to that angry wave, "Be still".

And, that is exactly what He does when we cry out. When we say, "Help. Save us!". He does speak. He stands up and rebukes the angery waves. He tells them to "Shut up" for a moment.

And, in that moment, everything in our souls goes "completely calm". Complete and utter calm. Perfect peace. ...

The water did stir again after those words from Jesus. Other storms rose up and waves roared in anger again on that lake. But, for that moment, ... for that sweet moment in time, Peace reigned and all was still. All was well. And, this is what we need. And, this is what He gives.

Do you ever feel this way?

My sweet Jesus. My brother. My friend. Thank you that You are Prince of Peace. Thank you for showing up, for standing up and telling those waves to be quiet for a while. Thank you for rescuing me and my friends from the storms around us. We are desperate for you. We need You! We need Your voice. We need Your presence.
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