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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Squirmin' Mercy Needed

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As I am reading through the Old Testament right now, I am squirming...

It wasn't really what I expected when I was beginning my journey back through the Bible.  He does surprise us, doesn't He?  Our big, beyond, and other-than-me God!  

It isn't that I haven't read the Old Testament many times before.  I have.  But, I don't know...I was just expecting a different understanding and experience.  I wasn't expecting to squirm.  I wasn't expecting to feel the conviction and the heaviness.

But, I am.  I am wriggling as I read.  

I started the reading on January 1st, intending to read through the Bible in a year.  I am already behind... and it is only the end of February.  But, I am ambling my way through.  And, as I read, I am squirming in in my seat.  I am uncomfortable.

My prayer and my heart's desire was to find God's love in and through the pages of the Old Testament.  And, His love is there, to be sure!  I am seeing His heart.  His feelings for His people is as passionate and as connected as it has always been since the beginning of time.  He cares.  Deeply. 

His love is shown forth in amazing deliverance, provision, and constant forgiveness.  But the reality is that God's care and His love are also expressed in His anger and frustration.  I am seeing the Truth of Revelation 3:19, "Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline."  He rebukes.  He disciplines.  He loves.  ...He is a good, kind Father.  Good, kind, loving parents do discipline and rebuke and feel frustration with their kids!

But, His goodness does look, feel, and sound a bit painful at times in Exodus... and in Leviticus ...and in Numbers.  And, I know it only gets more intense and more painful as I anticipate ahead toward the reading of Ezekiel.  

I love God's word so much.  I believe that His Word is teaching me... even as I squirm.  For weeks I have been asking God to show me the sufferings of Christ... that I might touch them more deeply this Lent season.  He has answered this prayer many times already.  I have been feeling, more keenly, the pain, suffering, and sin that taints our world so drastically every day.  I have sensed His suffering.

But, more recently, I feel He is showing me the pain, the suffering, and the sin deep within Stephanie.  Deep within me.  He is showing me my own heart and my sin.  And, that this darkness... pains Him greatly.  This is Lent suffering close at hand.  My sin.  ...in desperate need of the Resurrection and His salvation!  

I can relate to those He is rebuking.  I have, and do still today, complain and grumble about the same thing time-and-time-again.  I walk faithless and worried, not trusting my Father to provide.  I ignore His Presence.  And, I turn away from His best ways--- His Truth.   

As I read about the Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16 yesterday, I was so deeply struck by how I could relate to these prideful men.  I, too, have grumbled against leaders.  I, too, have felt "holier than thou" and stood in judgment toward my brothers.  Have you?  

I am reading the Old Testament and squirming in my seat these days.  

All I can say today when I sit and ponder are the words found in the ancient Jesus Prayer:  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, as sinner.  And, I thank Him for His fresh mercy every morning!  (Lamentations 3:22-23).  Because of His great love, I am not consumed.  

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Started Again


In March 2011, I joined Ann Voskamp at www.aholyexperience.com in a wonderful exercise of gratitude.  Ann challenged her blog readers to join her personal journey in "counting" and make note of 1,000 grace gifts from God.

What a sweet sojourn it was!  I loved the adventure of looking for God's love gifts throughout my day and then writing them down, filling a journal full of thankfulness!  It truly trained my eyes in seeing the big, the small, the good, and the hard ...seeing all as gifts from God's grace-filled and loving hands.

Since then I have found myself "missing" this discipline from time-to-time... so, this week, I decided to start afresh and count again!  Today starts my first (second-time-through) 1,000 Gifts Thankfulness post.  (I will be posting early each week from my list, so you can join me or just follow me in the adventure!)

So, here is my list thus far.

Grace gifts...
#1.  Your word is a lamp unto my feet.
#2.  Your love is better than life!
3.  Warm blankets on a cold morning.
4.  Happy boy, chatting and sharing his thoughts.
5.  The faithfulness of Your love and grace.
6.  Light mornings.
7.  Hot coffee made for me.
8.  A smile from a stranger.
9.  Fun pool time---giggles and special family "date".
10.  Kitchen helpers cleaning up after dinner.
11. Cool morning air on my face.
12.  Kids who will still climb onto my lap and share their dreams.
13.  Quiet still moments to listen for His voice.
14.  Fresh mercy for today.
15.  Encouraging emails that bring a smile to my heart.
16.  Well written classic literature, written from your children of old.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

God's womb is deep and wide

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I was practicing "lectio divina" this morning... which, although it sounds super fancy, is just a simple way of reading Scripture with a prayerful stance.

In short, the fundamental assumption behind Lectio Divina is that God's word is alive and divinely inspired ("Lectio"=word, "divina"=divine).  It begins with the belief that God is ready and always wanting to talk with you in and through His Word--- His Word is a conversation starter, you might say.  

In practice, simply put, you read God's word slowly and take note of what jumps out at you--- what strikes you.  What might He be saying to you today?  Then, you sit with that "jumping" word or phrase... asking God to speak more to you about it.  You dialogue with God about it and sit (contemplate) the Truth that He brings to mind.  That is 'Stephanie-version' and badly explained, I am sure; but, a favorite tool for me, none-the-less.

Anyway, I was reading slowly through Psalm 25 this morning and asking God to speak.  My eyes landed on verse 6, "Remember, O Lord, your mercy and love..."  Mercy and Love.  The words seemed to jump off the page and kiss my cheek.  

I sat with these words for a few minutes.  I prayed and sat in a listening stance.  Your mercy and Your love, O Lord.  I rested in this phrase for a few quiet moments more. Then I asked the Lord to tell me more...  What more do you have to say to me this morning, Lord?  Why this phrase?  

In response to the prayer-question, I had an intense urge to go to the Hebrew and figure out what Hebrew word was translated as "mercy" and as "love".  So, I quickly grabbed my ipod and googled www.blueletterbible.org (a great site!).  And, do you know what it said?  Do you know what I found when I clicked around these words and their origins...  

God has a womb!  

Okay, maybe that's not exactly what it said.  But, womb is one definition/translation of the Hebrew word in Psalm 25 that we translate:  mercy.   Mercy= womb.  Or, even better... Mercy=bowel. 

Okay, a major caveat here, I am NOT a Hebrew scholar...  not at all.  But, having once witnessed the intricacies of  Scripture translation into Kazakh, I often find it fun and encouraging to poke around and look at the broader meaning of Hebrew and Greek words.  What was God saying in the original Hebrew? 

When I read that this Hebrew word can be rendered womb and bowels...    I was dumbfounded and deeply moved.  The Holy Spirit of God was saying something to me this morning!  He was answering my prayerful question: Father, what more would You say to me about this?  

God's mercy...  His compassion (another translation for this word) is deep... very, very deep...   This part of who God is... this love, this mercy, this compassion... is as deep as the womb. It is as much a part of who He is as His bowels.  He loves with His very gut.  He is Love to His very core.    

I sat and meditated on this great Truth.  My Almighty God is Love.  His love, His mercy, His compassion resides within Him and is a place of life and birth.  His mercy toward me, and you, are from His very gut:  His inner Being.  God is Love!  God is mercy... in His deepest, most hidden parts.  

That is His stance toward me today.  Mercy.  This is His heart toward you, my friends.  From the very depth of Who He is, Almighty God, is Mercy and Compassion.  I will rest in this today!  Remember, O Lord, Your womb... Your guts... Remember, O Lord, Who You are:  You are Mercy, You are Kindness, You are Love.  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tears of a Friend


We don't like to see a friend in pain and we don't like to see them cry, right?  But, when we do have the privilege of seeing another's tears; when we invite intimacy, we do get the gift of tears from each other.  When a friend offers her tears to us as a gift...  or, when we enter in with them, feeling with them... when we allow our hearts to be touched by their pain...

When we can cry with a friend, then there is a deep connection, isn't there?

Pondering the sufferings of Christ brought tears to my eyes this morning as we passed the bread and the cup.   I entered in. In that quiet moment celebrating communion, my heart remembered what He did for me that beautiful, painful day on Calvary's hill!  And, it hurt to remember.  It pained me.   I remember, my precious Jesus.  I remember.  

With the tears there was indeed deep connection.  Somewhere within, I think, I touched the sufferings of Christ---even if only slightly.

So far, this is the Lenten season for me.  This is where I think He might be leading me.  The phrase, "touch and remember the sufferings of Christ", has been bouncing around in my head and in my heart.

To touch.  To sense.  To remember and re-acquaint myself with the pain and sorrow of this Man I love.  My Jesus.

Today, He led me further into this thought.  As I sat in stillness and solitude, my thoughts raced.  My mind whirled with faces.  My heart was filled with this week's memories:  thoughts of painful news, the suffering of a child, the loss of a loved one, the sickness of a friend, and the wandering away from faith...  This suffering.  These tears.  Today's suffering.

Today's suffering which He feels today.  My sufferings which He feels.  ...My friend, Jesus.

I was moved with the sufferings of Christ today.

What might He feel as He walks beside His children who are in pain?  What must He feel as He whispers His love into hearts and minds who shun and ignore Him?  What must He feel as He watches His sisters cry and His brothers turn away from His Presence, running to sin?  He suffers today.

My pain.  And, your pain.  And, her pain.  He feels them all as He intercedes.  As He advocates and as He speaks Truth louder than the Liar, the accuser of the brethren. (Revelation 12:10).  He is our friend and our intercessor (I John 2:1, Hebrews 7:25).  He is always with us.

Until He comes again, we can remember His death and proclaim it as real for us today.  This pain is our "now" truth as we wait for the "not yet" of our resurrection and eternal life without tears.  Tears and suffering are for today.  His death and His grief, even now, are our touchstone in this broken and painful world.

When I invite it, I can be privileged to see, to hear, and to connect with His tears and His sufferings today.  My friend, Jesus.

I remember, Jesus.  Today.  May I know Your sufferings--- to share in them with you, my Jesus (I Peter 4:13)  May I hear Your heart and see Your tears as I walk through my day.  What breaks Your heart?   Break my heart with what breaks your heart.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pain stinks

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We all walk the road of pain in this broken, broken world.  And, when I have to endure suffering and pain, it sucks.  Doesn't it?  Plain and simple.  It stinks.

But, to watch someone you love suffer and to feel so helpless to stop their pain... well, that just rips and tears in a way that is different and deep.  The watching is not more painful, per se.  It is just different and intense and confusing.

I am watching someone in pain and I am witness to suffering that I can't stop.  And, it hurts deep.  It pains my heart in ways that are hard to put words to...

In tears, I sat with the Lord this morning.  What do I even say to You, Lord?  I had no words.  Just tears.

I hate this suffering.  I hate to watch and hear about the pain.  I hate the confusion.  Father...  

There are times when words don't work and all we have is His name.  Father...   My eyes cried tears as my heart whispered this single word today.  Father.  A single word was enough--- it was full expression of my prayer to Him.

We have been talking about the beauty of Lent and this season of "longing" and "hunger":  A time to feel, to touch and remember the sufferings of Christ.  ...waiting for Good Friday.  ...waiting for Easter.  ...waiting and anticipating the resurrection and eternal life.

Oh man! With the news of this suffering, I can feel the deep longing and the groaning for Heaven!  Lent lessons right smack dab in front of me.

Longing.  And heaviness.  And, sadness.  Oh Father...  

After the tears subsided, there came a few more words to aid my prayer...  Isn't there another way?  

These words came out of my heart unbidden.  As they formed in my mind I recognized them---Don't they sound familiar?  Isn't this what Jesus was saying to the Father in the garden? Can this cup pass from me, please, Father? (Matthew 26:39)  Isn't there another way, Father?  

I know this road--or, at least, I know a small portion of this road.

And, I know beyond any shadow of doubt that suffering and pain have done significant work in me:  heart, soul and character work in my life.  Deep work.  I know... that I know... that know... that I know...  that suffering has indeed produced endurance.  It is producing faith, character and hope in my life.  In fact, I really can't imagine myself without my past and current pain journey.  It is one way, one avenue, God has used greatly to show me His love and His touch and the knowledge of Him.

I want this deep, heart work in my loved one.  But, still as I watch this dear one hurting...  and, I asked my loving Father, Is there any other way?   

There was no straight answer to my question.  There are no easy answers to pain and suffering, are there?
But there was a faint lifting of heart and a glimmer of hope welling up from within me.  I have been learning and am re-learning today that this faith and hope will not disappoint.  God's love will be poured into my and her life.  (Romans 5:3-5)

But, the truth still remains.  To endure suffering or watch suffering simply stinks.  Royally.  Doesn't it?

Monday, February 11, 2013

The comings and goings tug hard...


I have felt myself very irritable the last few days...  easily annoyed and frustrated.  I have felt disconnected and self-centered.  Puzzling over the "why" of my mood, I did indeed come up with some good ideas:  Simple exhaustion after returning from our travels?  Jet lag?  Hormones? Spiritual warfare?

All of these are possible, even probable, culprits behind my irritability.  But, none of these "sat" quite right with my spirit.  None of these options felt "it"exactly.  These don't hit that-nail-on-the-head.

What is it, Lord? 

As I was asking the Spirit of God to counsel my soul and lead me into all Truth, I was struck with a memory from my childhood.  More a feeling than a visual memory, actually.  This feeling of irritability and unsettledness feels faintly familiar, Lord...

In my mind's eye, I could just see and feel that 16 year old girl riding her "every-other-weekend" ride to her dad's house.  That was the agreement.  We would go every-other-weekend and see Dad.  And, we would see him the weekends before Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas... maybe even Christmas eve.  

That's it!  That is where I have felt this way before!    

That Friday after school would come and almost like clockwork, I would get frustrated, irritable and self-centered.  I remember feeling puzzled even at the time.  I wasn't even close to aware or conscious of it, like I am now.  But, it would happen.  And, I would ride that long ride and feel those hard feelings and begin the decent into disconnect.  

This is how I have been feeling the last few days.  

You see... these last two weeks we traveled far and gathered with a group of people we rarely see and yet, strangely, love deeply.  We connected quickly and we prayed together.  I listened and I heard hearts.  I walked alongside some of my favorite people on this globe.  And, then... on Friday,  I got on a plane and flew away from that far away place.  

I flew away---flew 'home'-- to another place I love... to be among another group of people I love and care for deeply.   Welcomed home with love, we reconnected with a warm embrace and tender words.  Ahh!  home!   But, two of my worlds seem to be hanging heavy on my fragile and full heart.  Pulling and tugging---making me want to descend into that dark self-centered, disconnected, irritated place.  ...to hide in that teenage shell of "I don't care. and What-e-ver!"

But, I do care.  I do care very much.  And, I am sad that we can't all live together in one big villa!  My two, three and four worlds that live within my heart ...

I dreamt about it last night.  In my dream I saw friends and family from across the earth.  Strange combinations: friends and family from here. from there. and from there.  ...all together, interacting with each other, in a crazy mixed up dream---my psyche just trying to make order from the colliding worlds.   

I do care very much.  

I did care... and still do care deeply... for my dad.  I was desperate to see him those "every-other-weekends".  But, the coming and goings of my life tugged just too hard sometimes on my heart and it hurt--- it hurts---just too much sometimes.

ugh...this nomadic life:  the comings and the goings.  Our hearts were not made for good-byes.  

Maybe this is why I have been feeling a bit irritable these last few days...  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Chicken from God's Hand

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So, I have a pretty lengthy list of food allergies.   I have only figured this out in the last few years and am so glad for blood tests that have confirmed and helped the process.  But, it is still a bit new.  And, although I am deeply grateful to have this information about myself, it has been a bumpy, hill-and-valley-filled journey toward receiving this 'gift' with thankfulness.

It does make life a bit harder, to be sure.  And, it pushes hard on my 'don't be a bother' issue---  I am the one who is a bother when it comes to meal times.  I simply can't just eat anything these days.  And, it pushes on my 'I can't have a weakness' issue---In fact, I have weakness for all to see and witness at every meal time.  Pushing on these issues is good and right.  Pushing on these wounds, and others, is Loving!  But, it hasn't been an easy road. 

When I travel,  it becomes even more fraught with difficulties.  But, my loving Father continues to show me His care over even this mundane aspect of my life.  Food.

He talks alot about food in His word, have you ever noticed?  He talks about His provision and His care of food.  He talks about His gifts of food and His using food to nourish.  He talks about food's importance and it's place in our lives.  He also talks about being our food... He, Himself... our food.   He shares with us that He is sweeter than the very best earthly food. 

So, with an upcoming trip approaching came a dialogue with my Father about my food.  As we talked about my food---or my food allergies--- I felt a distinctly, determined faith rising up within my soul.  I truly felt His Spirit was placing in me a stubborn commitment to not worry about what I would eat.  I sensed an invitation to trust Him more. 

He would provide.  He was my good Shepherd and would provide exactly the food I needed in the pasture He was taking me.

But, I still planned.  And, I still prepared.  I made us a lovely breakfast for our 4 am train ride... including beautiful, egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, corn-free, sugar-free pumpkin muffins.  I was ready!

Until... in the midst of the 3 AM brain frog and haste of leaving, I forgot that lovely, full bag of food in my refrigerator. It is still sitting there as I write this! 

The minute I remembered it (on our way to catch the train), I felt such grief!  And, mingled in the grief...was the thought...  How in the world am I going to eat!?  What am I going to eat on this train and plane flight?! 

My head literally dropped down to my knees and I wanted to cry.  Worry and fear where hanging close by ready to jump.  Quicker still and stronger, though, was a tender thought that wafted across my mind.  I am Your Good Shepherd.  Trust me.  I will provide for you. 

I knew this was an opportunity.  This too was a practical, beautiful opportunity to fall head first into the invitation of trust from my Heavenly Father! 

So, in those wee hours, as we rode along that dark road to the train station, I opened my hands and told my sweet Father that I would trust Him.   Father, I trust You today

You should have seen the beautiful chicken breast dinner that was delivered to my airplane seat as we began our 11 hour plane flight that day!!  Truly it was miraculous.  I could eat it all... a tray full of delicious airplane food (I know, an oxymoron!) that I could eat.

He had led me into this pasture and was providing food for me.  He was delivering manna right to my airplane seat...  and it tasted wonderful!

He cares about this... even this.  He is my Shepherd.  He is your Shepherd, today, my friends.  Right where you are--- in your pasture--- He will provide all you need.  

I am learning, Father.  Thank you for teaching me.  And, thank you for using hard things to lead me forward in this lesson of faith. 
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