12/29/2016

Hope for the future...The Magic of Ordinary Days!

“Rose spoke up softly beside me. ‘It’s how you handle the unfairness of life – that’s what matters, I think.’… In this city of imprisonment, I had seen faith and optimism, strength and fortitude in the face of adversity.” (Rose was in a Japanese Internment camp) – Ann Howard Creel, Magic of Ordinary Days

There is a reawakening from Spiritual Amnesia. It occurs on a daily basis. Communion becomes rehearsed. The air stale. The duty conducted with numb appendages – a mumbling of a prayer, a kind word given, bible verse read. The force needed to change this directive, knock the scales from my eyes, is quite powerful. The exposure sometimes develops a bit blurry. Yet, the moving breathing omniscient God does not let me go quietly into the fog of forgetfulness.

I remember watching the movie Magic of Ordinary Days based upon Ann Howard Creel’s novel. It is still one of my favorite movies. There is a beautiful bridge between what we think we want or need, and what is really needed to live an extraordinary life.

There is a red bird that loves to sit near the top of a Crepe Myrtle just outside my work window. He shifts from branch to branch, fluffing his feathers, and careening his neck. I love to watch him. He needs nothing to be breathtaking. He evokes hope just by being present.

2016 started strong. There was an unfolding in my spirit. Sara Groves speaks, in one of her songs, about our desire to curl around an ache, close ourselves from the pain, become small. She goes onto speak of opening up like the surface of a lake no matter the rain or storm that is to come. It takes effort to be that open.

As the year progressed I found myself curling up, fetal. Not only did I curl in, but began to obsess and worry. Every small pain, uncertainty, fear began to eat away at my sanity. Helplessness began to bleed into daily thoughts. I began to distance myself from the body of Christ, Scripture, and God Himself.

There is assurance in a faith that is founded in God’s faithfulness pushing past my unfaithfulness. I am beholding to Him that His love is not contingent upon my action or inaction. It is constant and unwavering.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-         Romans 8:37-39

There is a fire etched on my soul, an eternal flame that burns with fervor for Him. No matter how much of the world I try to drench it with.

There are some resolutions I’m making in the New Year...love more, live each day healthy & whole, show kindness, eat as healthy as I possibly can, go on adventures – big and small, sing, dance, get my picture taken, get the first five chapters of my book completed, etc.

Yet, the one immutable desire above all others is to follow where He leads – affix myself to His mast! Let fear drip off as rain washing my soul clean!!

I continue to want to connect to those I love, to God, to life! Each day my job reminds me how fragile this life is. How fleeting and precious…

Things will get better, hold on, hold on to Him!

“Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” – Psalm 3:2-6

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” – 1 Peter 1: 3-6


“As a child, when I first heard the story of Creation, I’d closed my eyes & pictured the earth as a ball rolling off the palm of God & into dark space, then drifting around until it found its home in sunny orbit. Never perfect, but ever spinning, and holding on to her course, despite it all.” – Ann Howard Creel, Magic of Ordinary Days

7/28/2016

I'll Run w/ Wild Horses

The ancient elm obscured the delicate etching on the colorful glass. The red brick - as if it had been molded from Georgia clay - sat strong, hugging this ancient creature, giving the window a feeling of being encased in blood. The tints of glass in shades of blue, purple, gold and aqua were a stark contrast to the bleeding brick. Its exquisite features sat perched on the sill with the words "I was glad" etched deep into the granite. Who wrote these words? Why? And what manner of beauty was I beholding? What small cell of history had I stumbled across? I found myself wanting to know the inner workings of the person who wrote these three simple words. "I was glad", they slipped so softly from my lips I barely realized I said them. A light breeze wept sunlight through the leaves and reflected off the colored glass. A thought came to mind, "Don't forget to be grateful that you love words." All well and good, but how was I to describe these snared thoughts, grateful that I loved words indeed! I imagined for a brief moment that someone was looking through from inner walls...I wondered what I looked like in all those colors and I wondered, once again, where the hell I was!

I hardly put pen to parchment unless I am feeling confined in some way. Like the loosening of corset stays, writing helps me to breathe more deeply. The valley of trouble can leave me gasping - scratching for the air to survive. A bit delusional in my teens and twenties, I assumed this would correct itself when, fill in the blank: I found someone to love, obtained an established career, got the next great material thing, etc.

I have lived a life of faith, but cannot quite put my finger on what the shape of that faith has come to be. I began walking sod paved with self-righteous indignation. 

Learning that we are all messy humans carved from often uncontrollable circumstances has shaped my faith in a different way. I struggle with the title “Christian”, not from shame or my lack of belief in the great love of Jesus, but because more times than not I do not feel “Christ-like”. There are times that I don’t like people. I struggle to show a love that seems illusive to me. Putting myself out there, being vulnerable, loving others is the antithesis of what is comfortable.

On the flip side, I love people more than I can say. My inmost passion is to show human beings how worthy they are of God’s love. I hate when someone lives defeated. My want to pour into others is so palpable that it becomes a living thing. Those closest to me know that making time for me, allowing me to love them, is one of the biggest means by which I receive love. I believe God is doing a new thing. This year is vastly different from the hard prairieland I’ve trod in years past. The ground, dare I say it, has even been furrowed.

I hope. I hope in this heartbroken world of pain and suffering. I hope because I choose to see the beauty of flowers blooming in the midst of all this ‘crap’. The stinking waste becomes a canvas for God to display His artistry.

I am reading “Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best” by Eugene Peterson. It has been a sweet and beautiful read. A look at the life of Jeremiah. A young man that felt much insecurity and doubt as I do, but chose to trust the way God saw him. Trusted that what God said He would fulfill. Lived his most human self because He believed that God’s plan for his life was unique.

Something very different takes place in the life of faith: each person discovers all the elements of a unique and original adventure. We are prevented from following in another’s footsteps and are called to an incomparable association with Christ. The Bible makes it clear that every time that there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God’s creative genius is endless. He never, fatigued and unable to maintain the rigors of creativity, resorts to mass-producing copies. Each life is a fresh canvas on which he uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions that he has never used before.
-         Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses, P. 13

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you: A prophet to the nations – that’s what I had in mind for you.” – Jeremiah 1:5 MSG

I have become increasingly aware of my own demise. The urgency to get everything in that I’ve ever wanted to do is daunting. Time slips through my fingers as grains of sand. Does anyone else feel this life moving at a breakneck speed? This world is increasingly unstable. My heart weeps over so much violence and disregard to human life. Yet, I’m reminded of how skewed my perception can be. In my own efforts I will fail to live a fulfilled life. It is also vital not to misinterpret my fear as a sinful thing. Allow God to use it as a catalyst in which to manifest His glory. My relationship to Him is reactionary to what He thinks of me.

 But a ruthless honesty will always leave us shattered by our inadequacy. The world is a frightening place. If we are not a little bit scared, we simply don’t know what is going on. If we are pleased with ourselves, we either don’t have very high standards or have amnesia in regard to the central reality, for “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
-         Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses, P. 49

“Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16 MSG

My identity does not begin when I begin to understand myself. There is something previous to what I think about myself, and it is what God thinks of me. That means that everything I think and feel is by nature a response, and the one to whom I respond is God. I never speak the first word. I never make the first move.
-         Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses, P. 38

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” – Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

This life is overwhelming. I never anticipated it to be so complex, daunting, and scary. The mundane can preserve emotion, but it also incases us in an impenetrable film – keeping our heart beating and safe, but also atrophying. It isn’t living to save self from pain. Pain is part of the equation. Fear is part of the journey to. I’m reminded of music cast on the wind. A whispering of ancient paths worth discovering. I want to travel them. I don’t crave for ‘lesser things’ to be a part of my narrative. Yet, I’ve allowed them to seep in as spilled coffee on paper. It not only forms a brown stain, but distorts the structural components of the story He is writing. A splendid storyteller, He is unafraid of rewriting those pages that I’ve marred. He uses those stains and distortions to create a story worth telling, even if He is the only one who remembers it!

I recall my sister sharing a message Beth Moore spoke upon, where she said in Heaven God will pull us in close, as children at story time, and begin, “Once upon a time…”
Our stories will fall from His lips. The angels will marvel at us.

The truth is, in times like this, rationally we want to hunker down and keep those we love safe. Our God calls us out of those clefts of security, outstretches His hand, and asks us if we will grasp it. If we will come down from that cleft and dance amidst the minefields with Him. I’m afraid of missed steps that might leave me with one less limb. This is when I place my feet atop His, hold tightly and allow Him to guide me.
My humble prayer is to ever submit to His will – allow my heartbeat to match with His. In the midst of so much uncertainty He certainly will never fail!  

At some deep level we need to be convinced, and in some way or other we need periodic reminders, that no words are mere words. In particular, God’s words are not mere words. They are promises that lead to fulfillments. God performs what he announces. God does what he says.
-         Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses, P. 52

“When your words showed up, I ate them – swallowed them whole. What a feast! What delight I took in being yours, O God, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!” – Jeremiah 15:16 MSG


7/05/2016

Oh, My Anxious Heart!


A tidal wave is an exceptionally large ocean wave, especially one caused by an underwater or volcanic eruption. Just as with nature, our inner struggle can create outward signs that hit so unexpectedly our emotions become shrapnel which imbeds itself into our well-being.

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. The urban dictionary defines a panic attack as, “the worst, most uncomfortable thing that could ever happen to someone. (Death comes a close second)”

In the last few years I have met humans of all ages, shapes, and backgrounds that are experiencing life altering anxiety. The social norm, much less the spiritual one, is to overlook this condition, thinking someone should be able to simply “get over” the crushing emotions they are experiencing.

As Christians the road can be hobbled by road blocks which hinder the security of our faith. From an early age I was told, “don’t fear, but put your trust in God.” There are numerous scriptures that speak on this very topic:

The Lord said to him, “Peace to you, do not fear; you shall not die.” – Judges 6:23

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4

God is our refuge and strength,
[
b]A very present help in [c]trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the [
d]sea;
Though its waters roar and foam,
Though the mountains quake at its swelling pride. [
e]Selah. – Psalm 46: 1-3

The beauty of an anxiety attack is it always leads me to fervent prayer and open dialogue with God, but it doesn’t mean that my fear or anxiety go away. In the rolling black of my tornadic emotions I know God is there, but there are times where I have felt so weak and incapable. I am certain I have broken His heart by not really giving my fear to Him. I can have an anxiety attack over the worry of a previous one. I have felt weak, faithless, and underserving of God’s love.

My sister posed a question in one of our change the world conversations, “Is anxiety a sin?” (I do not believe it is.)

“Therefore humble yourselves [demote, lower yourselves in your own estimation] under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you, Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all you concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares for you watchfully. [Psalm 55:22.] – “1 Peter 5:6-7 (AMP)
***

“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and he knelt down and began to pray, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done. Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.”
-        Luke 22: 41 – 44 NASB

Jesus sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. A representation of His anguish over drinking the cup He was destined to partake in. I believe He felt exactly as I do when my world is unraveling. And, the Father did not take the cup from Him, but was a comfort to Him in the midst of it.

Our society does not leave margin for error. You need to have your stuff together. We try to juggle our life with ease and dexterity. We hide our pain even from ourselves.
In truth, those who suffer from anxiety really are strong and courageous in the midst of fear. We are great at handling large amounts of stress and trauma, keeping our family and friends together. Yet, there comes a breaking point for our body. It is as if we experience system failure. Our body shuts down and resets.

A panic attack, for me, will trigger over the most irrational things. One night in bed I began to think about my heater catching on fire, because it is right outside my bedroom door my mind spiraled; if this did happen I would be forced to jump from my second story window and die. My mind pitched and heaved until my body was a physical wreck.

Be thankful, if you don’t experience anxiety. Anxiety, at times, has hindered me from doing life. However, it doesn’t keep me down.  I am strong (so are you). Our bodies can only handle so much! In this age, I fear we all suffer a form of PTSD. Anxiety is NOT weakness. It is NOT a lack of faith. And, while I am no psychiatrist or physician, I believe it is your bodies fail safe. A way to manage everything your facing.

In our weakness He is strong.

“Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” 2 Corinthians 12: 7 – 10 (MSG)

 He walks right alongside. There are times I wish I didn’t have to feel crazy, but I am grateful for deep feelings. I am afforded the privilege of experiencing deep love and show true compassion to those who are hurting.

To anyone who has ever felt anxious or experienced a panic attack, know that God has not abandoned you. You are not weak, but courageous, because you still face life head on. God is not disappointed in you. He is working out of the ashes -the result with be beautiful!!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who morn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

-        Isaiah 61: 1 - 3

5/09/2016

Tidings of Emotion



“Faith is not a vague sense that, “God will work it out.” It comes from prayerful immersion in the Scripture.” – Timothy Keller

I am experiencing a bit of emotional fatigue. I am mired up in what May brings. The responsibility is overwhelming. Instinctively, I want to bury my head against the wind and just get through it. Yet, that is unfair to this gift of life. I am forsaking the blessings by dreading what hasn’t even happened yet. So, I’m trying to own the pain I feel while traversing, with revelry, this rocky road we call life. These seasons are equal reminders, as rejoicing often is, that there is beauty to behold – little bumps and bruises can be blessings to.

I just found out a “boy” I liked has a serious girlfriend. The pin prick reality that I am not a mother placed salt in a fresh cut wound. I don’t write this with bitterness. I write it with loneliness, and an ache that feels too real to mark with borders. We are often frightened to feel these emotions. How are we able to navigate joy if we haven’t traversed the road of sadness? I don’t count my journey desolate. It is rich, mysterious – a wondrous thing!

We cannot always trust our emotions. They are deceptive. Nevertheless, we do have permission to experience them, own them, and use them as fuel to propel us forward. There is no formula for “how you should feel” about a situation. Emotions are to be felt, not to govern. They can bubble up from circumstance, or a reservoir untapped - full of their sharp headiness. These unexpected wells of emotion will often catch us off guard.

So, I sit and survey the goodness of Him who makes “all things new”, whose mercies are new each morning. His love for us is immeasurable.

“So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. At that time you won’t need to ask me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and he will grant your request because you use my name. You haven’t done this before. Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. – John 16: 22-24 NLT

I wrote this journal entry last month while in Berea for the Appalachian Fund Conference. My heart stirs every time I read it…

I could be writing the next ‘Great American Novel’ – bleeding memory & make believe into a patchwork tapestry. My cup has been filled from other glasses these past two days. I asked God to give me both respite & passion. He is ever thoughtful to our smallest requests.

I feel whimsical. An emotion that can equate to folly in my book. Still, who couldn’t use a bit of play. Why, as adults, do we snub a simple & delighted spirit? We forget how to play. In a world that is severe & cutthroat we don’t know how to slow down and be silly.

I want more. More has been given.

I try not to idolize a situation or place. There is a resonant feeling that I am supposed to be in Berea, KY. Does this mean I will get to? I don’t know.
I enjoy a well-mapped life. My middle name is “checklist”. Yet, structure quakes underneath failures and flaws we cannot predict or calculate.

I need beautiful spaces of soft earth to dig my roots into. My life is wondrous and I am grateful for what Jesus has given – ever grateful. I know what it means to have been given wings. I long for a tether, a point of center, where I truly feel I belong. It may be foolery to think I would be able to find that this side of Heaven. This sentiment doesn’t replace the need for a sacred space. A place where my unique qualities are firmly grounded.

A Prayer (adapted from Isaiah 54: 1-10):

Lord, I sing aloud of your goodness. You, who expand my borders. I will shout in loud praise that you have kept my womb barren. My heart expounds on thoughts of your wondrous mercy. You promise me far more than those childbearing women! Make me ready. I will expand the borders of my heart. I will open up the windows and the lay out the curtains. I will lengthen the cords of my dwelling and strengthen my stakes in your sure foundation. Praise you Yeshua for a growing spiritual family. Let me ever think the “big” thoughts you have for me. Let me not narrowly confine my idea of what you want for my life.

I will not be ashamed of this beautiful life you have given me, nor will I be depressed by what I fear I don’t have. You shall not put me to shame! You are my Husband, my Redeemer, Lord Almighty! You have wooed me, rejected as I was – grieved in spirit and heart sore.
You, my redeemer, say: “I left you, but only for a moment. Now, with enormous compassion, I’m bringing you back. In an outburst of anger, I turned my back on you – but only for a moment. It’s with lasting love that I’m tenderly caring for you.” (7-8)

You have sworn never to grow angry with me again. You have promised that Your love and kindness will never depart, nor Your covenant of peace and completeness be removed, even if the mountains should crumble and fall apart. I praise you for your compassion towards me.

Lord, your loving mercy fills my cup. I praise you for the fresh start it gives me each day!