Ebenezer

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‘We ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not as a requirement.’
~ Bread and Wine: readings for Lent and Easter

I look at the season of Lent differently than many people. For some, it’s the giving up of chocolate or Facebook or alcohol. For me, it’s something I take one. It’s an intentional focus on my faith walk. Often this takes the form of a new discipline….a habit that brings me closer to God. Several years ago, a group of friends and I dove into a Lenten study together. Two years ago, I turned the radio off in my car. I spent 40+ days driving around town with nothing but the noise of my thoughts and the silence of that empty space. Last year, I reflected each day on a different Bible verse that I had printed out, cut into strips, and drew each morning from my childhood Easter basket. The intentionality of these Lenten verses and the connection to something sentimental from when I was a kid brought me great joy each day as I reflected on the verses and of times in the past.

I have been through a lot of change over the past six months. I am living my life differently and approach my days with a new perspective. I am finally understanding what it means to give my cares, my worries, my frustrations, my struggles . . . my life . . . over to God and completely trusting Him with each moment, with who I am, with where He leads me. My daily Morning Meeting is a new discipline that grounds me in the Word each day, provides space for meditation, and includes structured time for talking to God. This is the very definition of the word ‘discipline,’ something my Lenten journeys have always provided.

“We are silent in the early hours of each day, because God is supposed to have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep, because to God also belongs the last word.”  ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But, what about after the Meeting ends? Since returning to work a few weeks ago, it’s so easy for me to be ushered into the busyness of getting ready for the day, leaving the house, becoming immersed in my work, and then when I come up for air, I realize I didn’t think about Him during my day. I didn’t bring God along. I forgot to center my day in thanksgivings to Him. I didn’t call out to Him in times of stress or recognize my gratefulness or pause to be truly present and thank Him for it. This frustrates and saddens me.

My sabbatical taught me that God gives me enough grace for TODAY. He provides me with His strength and love for NOW. God has woken me up. I am more aware of His presence in my life now than ever before. My time in the valley has brought me to my knees and shown me that I can’t make it through each day without His guidance and love and grace. I am physically weak at times. I have moments of mental exhaustion. I have periods of such extreme sadness that I don’t think it will ever end. But, God is so faithful. He has gifted me with new friendships that have blossomed in warp speed. These are relationships centered around our faith, with conversations and texts that don’t involve meaningless chit-chat, but are a sacred space to share verses and quotes and songs and prayers. He has led me to a church where I am fed through the Word and song and confession and communion. I have read books written by others who struggle and I gain wisdom from their strength. One of those books, Radical Gratitude by Ellen Vaughn, provided an ‘ah-ha’ for me. She spoke of ebenezers, of those things that bring reminders of God. I love this term. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. An ebenezer could be an act . . . like walking through a doorway or performing a certain task. It could be a sight or sound or taste or touch. An ebenezer is a way for me to take God with me. It’s my reminder that He is with me throughout my day.

‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it, Ebenezer, saying ‘thus far the Lord has helped us.’ ~ 1 Samuel 7:12

So, what is my Lenten discipline this year? It’s to identify my ebenezers and take God with me into my day. Instead of simply beginning and ending my day with Him, I am making room for Him in the in between. I am becoming more intentional of space in my day . . . space to focus on my breath . . . space for gratitude . . . space for peace. Every inhale and exhale can be an ebenezer if I am aware. God gifted me with each breath that I take . . . I’m just beginning to acknowledge each one with gratefulness and thanksgiving.

Sabbatical

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Could it be that I’m right where he wants me to be…
…Is my breaking meant to make me stronger?
Are the murky waters of transition and pain meant to help me swim?
And is the fall a flight lesson in disguise?
~ Rebekah Lyons, author of Freefall to Fly

Today is day 44. I’ve reached the end of my 6-week sabbatical from work. It has truly been a season of timelessness. Each day didn’t have the typical time structure of a workday. At the end of each day when I reflected on the day’s events, it felt like morning was far away and activities stretched far longer than a single day. Leading up to my sabbatical, I kept referring to the time as ‘space.’ It would be space to breathe. Space to think. Space to organize, clean, and de-clutter. Space to journal and read. Space to be. It has been an answer to a prayer I don’t remember voicing. It was the answer to a prayer that manifested itself in a cry for help. And, it was just the space that I needed to remove myself from the frantic activity of my mind and body and just stop.

During my sabbatical, I adopted the practice of a ‘morning meeting’ and an ‘afternoon/evening meeting.’ I am a conscientious person. I’m a commitment kinda girl. If I have a meeting to attend at work or church, I win the perfect-attendance award. If I say I’m going to be there, then I’m going to be there. So, the title of this study and reflection time is intentional. I take my ‘meetings’ more seriously than I would if I called these periods ‘my Bible reading time’ or ‘a chance to reflect and journal.’

For my Morning Meeting, I sit down with my breakfast and read the daily devotion from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young and the accompanying scripture references in my study Bible. This is a special time because as I read, I think of a close group of friends who are reading these same daily devotions. We often text about insights or inspirations from the readings to each other throughout the week. After my devotion, I continue my reading with a chapter or two from a book on a timely topic for my life. A book on Mindfulness and one on Gratitude were my selections for the month of January. The last part of my meeting focuses on a full-body stretching regimen, meditation, and my prayers for the day. After awakening the body and mind, my prayers flow from a place deep within me. I’ve mentioned previously that I pray out loud and frequently share with others what a big difference this makes in vocalizing my concerns and praises. My total Morning Meeting time takes about 40 minutes.

My Afternoon/Evening Meeting is not as structured. This is a time to explore topics, read blogs, gather ideas, or make plans. Instead of my mind going over and over things throughout the day, I find that if I tell myself that I’ll dive into those thoughts during my Meeting time, then I’ve given those thoughts permission to retreat. It helps me stay in the moment and avoid pre-living the future. This practice has shown greater focus and creativity and I’ve accomplished more because of it.

For the most part, I’ve distanced myself from social media and even text messages during this time. But, a friend sent me a text a few days ago to see how I was doing and to see what my biggest takeaway was from this time of renewal.

What is my biggest takeaway from my time off?

This question stumped me, but it was a powerful one. I let it sit on the lock screen on my phone for most of the day. I kept glancing at it, letting the words sink in. I had no idea what my takeaways were, at least not that I could put into words. So, of course when I’m having trouble naming something, I sit down and type it out so I can see my thoughts on the page. This blog post is the product of that.

One thing I know for sure is that after more years than I care to admit to, I have finally caught my breath. I am breathing deeper, cleaner breaths than I have in a very long time. My mindfulness and meditation practices over the past month have taught me the true meaning of being present. Although I am still struggling with anxiety and feeling overwhelmed, the reality is that I’m blessed by this struggle because it forces me to be in the now. I grow anxious with thoughts past today, which helps me acknowledge the present and live moment by moment.

A big part of this space away from my job was to reflect on how I approach my work, name those things that bother and frustrate me the most, brainstorm changes, and decide what to let go of. As I opened the flood gates of letting go, I found some of the frustrations and burdens seeped into my personal life as well.

* Letting go of defining my love, acceptance, and value by the affirmation of others.
* Letting go of taking on more than I can carry on my little shoulders.
* Letting go of taking on other people’s stress and anxiety.
* Letting go of trying to ‘just be friends’ with a man I wanted to be with for the rest of my life.

And, the big one . . . . letting go of society’s pressures that I should live a certain way, look a certain way, behave a certain way, and be at a certain point in my life. I am IN this world, but not OF this world. I am learning to embrace the fact that I don’t crave having a husband and children. I will accept that this is the way God made me. I will focus on His blessings and my answered prayers in various aspects of my life and let go of this one thing that has haunted me for so many years. I will not compare myself to others and am letting go of society’s pressures to join, join, join and be busy, busy, busy all the time. I will embrace the wonderful thoughtful, reflective, introverted self that I am. I will not crumble again to the world’s ‘standard.’

I told myself early on to not expect a complete healing or the feeling that I had ‘arrived’ by the time I returned to work in February. My prayer had been to leave this season behind as I re-enter the workplace, but realistically, I know that God’s timeframe and mine don’t always align. I do know that God has brought me to my knees. He is teaching me how to trust in Him, because I don’t really think I have before.

So, what was my response to my friend’s text?

‘Oh gosh. I have no idea what my big takeaway is. Accepting that I cannot keep running at the pace I’ve kept for the past decade is the first thing that comes to mind. Appreciating me for me . . . that I am an introvert who needs down time. It’s very counter-intuitive to society, so learning to love who I am is definitely still a work in progress…’

Vision

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I woke up this morning to a gorgeous sunrise peeking through my bedroom curtains. Instead of immediately heading downstairs for breakfast, I quietly embraced myself in my big blue bathrobe, tucked on my fuzzy gray slippers, and sat on the floor in the middle of my bedroom. I stopped to stare at the vision board I created last night.

Vision Board

I love arts and crafts projects. Cutting and taping and creating is a natural part of who I am and how I connect with the world around me. So, when a friend shared the idea of creating a vision board as a New Year’s discipline, I was all in. Ahead of our gathering, I searched Pinterest for ideas and examples. I perused ‘how to’ posts on the process of creating a vision board. I purchased a large cork board and some map pushpins and gathered stacks of magazines, a few personal photos and inspirational printables I’ve been saving. When the time came Friday evening to create my board alongside several close friends, I felt prepared with my steps for the journey.

What was beautiful about going through this process with others was how images and phrases sparked memories and stories and dreams in each of us. Surrounded by stacks of magazines, from travel, health & lifestyle, and home & garden issues and, yes, even a Cat Fancy or two, we each tore out pages that had images or words and phrases that resonated with each of us. We even passed pages to each other if we found something that reminded us of someone else in the room. The purpose of this activity was NOT to think about it too much. The intention was to be open and guided by that deep inner Voice making connections to what was on the page. I tend to overthink things, so although this was challenging for me at first, I found it became easier and freeing to simply be led through the process as the evening continued.

Through my first few magazines, I was drawn to more words and phrases than I was to the images in front of me. Many of the words I was drawn to related to my Words over the years (joy, trust, gratitude), as well as travel & nature. When I finally did find images I connected to, they stopped me in my tracks. They spoke to me. For some of the pictures, I couldn’t quite identify what drew me to them. Most were mysterious and sparked a curiosity in me. There was something there. I removed those pages and added them to my pile. An image of a man rowing a canoe towards a rustic old house; a woman in a gorgeous dress looking mysterious as she walked toward a centuries-old building; a pair of legs with striped boots kicked up into the sunshine with a sense of whimsy; two empty beach chairs facing a body of water. I still don’t know what each of these images means to me, but perhaps that’s the goal. They speak my vision when words are insufficient. They chose me.

After breakfast, I came back upstairs to my initial early morning posture of sitting on my bedroom floor to gaze again at my creation. But, this time, with laptop in tow, I captured these reflections:

  • A picture of a huge pink unicorn on top of a blue car with the words ‘let’s make today fun.’ This reminds me of something my mom told me awhile ago. I seek self-reflection and deep & personal dialog within my books and movies and conversations. My mom simply stated that it’s important to take time to view or read and discuss something simply for the fun of it. This image reminded me of that conversation.
  • The red stained lips with the words, ‘it’s a matter of trust,’ reminds me that my romantic relationships are directed by God and that He is always enough. If there is a man in my life, then God is still at the center of that relationship and I need to trust Him through that journey.
  • In this time of sabbatical, I have reflected on my need for space and centering. Words like ‘retreat’ and ‘dare to set boundaries’ and ‘the examined life’ inspire me to continue to make time for myself once I re-enter my job next month.
  • I counted SIX images that are similar to each other. Each of them shows a person, back turned, with a scene in front of them. A girl running down a desolate beach; a woman, hands on hips, taking in a mountain vista; a man paddling away in a boat, a woman mysteriously moving towards a gothic building; me, staring out at a field of sunflowers from last summer. I’m puzzled as to why I’m drawn to these images of people gazing at something beautiful or venturing into the seemingly unknown. Perhaps, those images tap into my sense of discovery and newness and my love for the outdoors. Whatever the message is, the frequency and similarity of these images tells me that this message runs deep within my soul. These images portray a sense of peace and connection for me.
I plan to hang my vision board in my bedroom this weekend. It will be the last thing I see before I go to sleep each night and the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. At the center of my board are the words ‘be grateful.’ I think the point of a vision board is what you envision for yourself for the future . . . what your hopes and dreams are just around the bend. But, my board is more of a reflection of where I am now, a collage of familiar truths about myself. After all, right here, right now is where that vision begins.

Stop

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You have to let everything fall apart to find out what’s indestructible about you.
– Glennon Doyle Melton, from her blog, momastery.com

Today is day 1 of a 44-day sabbatical I’m taking from work. I will be off through the holidays and the entire month of January. I’ve been living fast and frantic for as long as I can remember. I’ve hit the ground sprinting each morning and have operated at an adrenaline-filled state through much of each day for the last few years. Staff cuts and increased responsibilities have been burdens on my plate at work and instead of stopping to let go of those things that overwhelm me, I pressed on. My social calendar and church responsibilities filled my extra-curricular time with appointments and meetings and events. I’ve always felt I wasn’t really living if I didn’t go, go, go. I crave quality time with others. I like to be out and about. I feel that I’m missing out if I don’t travel and see and do. But, I’m an introvert who has been masquerading as an extrovert. I’m an introvert wanting a fabulous social life and desperately not wanting it to wear me out. Well, it has. It did. And, now I’m suffering the consequences….

At the beginning to September, I experienced something I never have before. I was physically broken down and forced to stop. Never in my life have I been so humbled and physically incapable of processing the barrage of information that hit me throughout every day. I would experience extreme exhaustion after only an hour or two of arriving to work. I coasted through the rest of the workday on fumes, operating well below my normal level of productivity, and would arrive home to give in to that intense exhaustion. Jammies at 5pm and lights out for bedtime at 7:30pm became my norm for much of the fall. I cancelled half of my late afternoon and evening obligations because I physically couldn’t do it. Along with the exhaustion, I was battling depressive episodes with pain-filled sadness and apathy. Something was wrong. I definitely didn’t feel like myself. I started with an appointment with my general practitioner, blood work came back normal, but she said I’ve been running at a high level of adrenaline for way too long. She said that our bodies are equipped to go into that ‘fight or flight’ mode for snippets of time, but that a person shouldn’t consistently live in that state.

Answers to some digestive issues I’ve had for most of my life began to make me feel better physically, but there was still this weariness I couldn’t explain, and more importantly, couldn’t get over. I needed help. I’m a researcher by trade so it was only natural for me to self diagnose (although the internet can be a scary place!). I started seeing a counselor and told her I thought I was suffering from burnt-out. Is that a real thing? Is it medically sound? Or is it just a term that gets tossed around? Well, she said, it’s not necessarily medically-based, but burn out is certainly a real thing. At the end of our second session, she challenged me to think about taking extended leave from my job. She said I needed space and a time to refocus and recharge; a period of at least six weeks to reflect and heal. Space from whatever it was that I’ve been suffering from. I’ve never taken more than two and a half weeks off work in over a decade. Taking this much time off sounded like an impossibility! My initial reaction was, ‘how in the world am I going to make this happen?!’ But, as I let it soak in and wrestled with the thought of it, I came up with a timeframe and had even taken care of some of those small logistical details before my next appointment. I wasn’t feeling excited. I was relieved. I began to crave and anticipate this space and realized I truly needed it for my health and well being.

And, so it begins today. A chance to press my ‘reset button’ (as one good friend shared with me). My sabbatical journey begins with the joys of Christmas, a time with family and lucid schedules filled with rest and relaxation. It will continue into the shiny new year, which always brings me pause and reflection and a chance for new beginnings. So what will this space and time look like? I’m not quite sure yet. I’ve been jotting down notes of things to do, books to read, disciplines to begin, reflections to write about. I will stay close to home. It will be intentional. It will be healing. It will be blessed. . . .

Landing

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Spirit lead me
where my trust is without borders
let me walk upon the waters
wherever you would call me
take me deeper than my feet
could ever wander
and my faith will be made
stronger
in the presence of my
Savior
 
-Oceans by Hillsong
 
How do I know that I’m following God’s will for my life? I’ve made some important decisions over the past few months that I feel God is in. They were choices that led me away from the familiar and were wrought with questioning and prayer and conversations with trusted souls in my life. What seemed to others as difficult decision-making actually brought me a sense of peace, freedom, and relief. I was led. Now, these experiences have definitely brought a different sense of peace than I’ve experienced before. Instead of feeling certain about what lies ahead, my sense of peace lies in leaving things behind. I have a peace about NOT continuing in the familiar and a desire to let go of the comfortable. This is definitely an unfamiliar path.
 
I resigned from a major leadership position in my church a few months ago. It was a three-year commitment, for which I was only a year and a half into my term. This was not a decision I made lightly. I’m a commitment kinda girl. But, I walked away. I ignored the people-pleasing voices in my head that told me I would disappoint others and listened instead to the louder Voice that I needed to let go and trust Him. I’ve never let go without the next step clearly in front of me. I’ve always had the open door awaiting me, where letting go of the former led almost immediately into what was next.
 
This part of my life’s journey is closest to what I experienced when I moved out of state over a decade ago to begin a new career, a new life. I entered into that final phase of growing up and being out on my own. I left my family, my friends, my job and moved three states away to a city where I had never been. My discernment of God’s will was more powerful than I had ever experienced. I couldn’t explain how I knew it was the next step for my life, I just had a deep inner knowing that was undeniable. Total trust. Connectedness. I didn’t overthink it or enter into fear . . . I just went.
 
Be strong and courageous; be not frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. ~ Joshua 1:9
 
This week, I let go again. I gave up the comfortable and familiar, something that I enjoy, something that I’ve ‘always done,’ something that defines part of who I am. I backed away from the music ministry at my church. I handed over my weekly commitment of making music on Wednesday evenings, something I’ve done for the past 25 years, and said I would not return. I’m not sad, I’m not excited, I’m not questioning my decision. I DO question what God is up to. I haven’t felt Him in my music-making for close to six months. It’s an absence that makes every difference in the world in how I play. The vibrancy just isn’t there. Instead of bringing a sense of peace and connectedness to Him, it has brought me pressure and stress. I have to wonder if God wants to use my OUR music in a new way.
 
Gosh, I hope I’ve made the right decisions so far. I’ve had unparalleled certainty in the past, only to discover that what I thought was ‘the plan’ wasn’t. I’ve been sure that His steps were my steps and was certain we were journeying together. But, I’m realizing that maybe in those experiences, it wasn’t MY plan. . . it was HIS plan instead. When the path I choose doesn’t end where I think it will. Maybe those experiences are an unexpected answered prayer. What if the path I take doesn’t lead me where I want it to go, but instead leads to where God intended for me to be instead? If He answers my prayers according to His will, will I recognize them as answered prayers? Having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I realize that God is always on this journey with me and my once-thought wayward discernment didn’t led me astray after all. I truly believe that God weaves my path into His plan, even when I head in a direction that veers off course. This is the promise I hold on to when the seemingly ‘wrong’ decisions of my past replay in my mind. He has answered my prayers in unexpected ways that sometimes take time to identify as blessings.
 
In my life, there are few ‘forever decisions.’ Most of my decisions aren’t permanent and that takes the pressure off as I live into my choices, leave things behind and continue into what’s next. I don’t know His timing. I don’t know where He’s leading me. I don’t know how He’s equipping me to serve. I’m just open and ready and floating from one new experience to the next. I don’t think He wants me to land just yet.

Mothers

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Today is Mother’s Day. A day to celebrate my mom, my sister, my aunt, my grandma, and other motherly relationships in my life. This is the day that I try to focus on those relationships and not sulk in my own self pity. But, that’s not what this blog is about. This is a space to be honest and put my heart on the page.

Many of my friends are in the prime of their motherhood experiences, with young children at home, capturing milestones, and being absorbed into a world of little people and their daily routines. I’m watching it all go by. I never thought this would be me. I always thought ‘I still have time,’ so I didn’t risk or date to find the man to build a family with. And now, time is rushing past and I realize I never opened myself up to the possibility of having my own family. No one gave me a chance. No one sought to get to know me better. No one saw me as someone who could be their wife. I truly believe this will never happen for me. At this point in my journey, I’m not looking for it and I don’t think I’d be open to it even if it were to present itself to me. Why is that? Could it be that when I was convinced I had found ‘the one’ and held on to that promise for years, I discovered that no matter how certain I was that I was following God’s plan, how perfect he seemed to be or how right he was for me, in the end, I was just wrong. He was not the perfect match I thought he was. I waited for him for what felt like forever and it still wasn’t long enough. My once-thought flawless intuition into God’s plan for my life became marred. I don’t ever want to go through that again. I don’t want to find the man who I feel without a shadow of a doubt is Mr. Right, only to realize after years of chasing that he wasn’t the one for me. It’s exhausting. It’s maddening. And, if chasing the wrong guys before finding the right one is the process, then I don’t want to go through it.

Each year, Mother’s Day falls near my birthday, which is always a joy-filled occasion, but in recent years, also serves as a reminder of growing older without a family of my own. I don’t even realize the effect it has on me until I catch a glimpse of what I’m missing or have to explain that ‘no, I’m not a mom,’ which then launches me into a tailspin of sadness and isolation. Last year, an usher at church attempted to hand me a flower in honor of Mother’s Day. When I told her that I’m not a mother, she said, ‘that’s ok, honey, you can still have a flower.’ I remember being so upset and refusing to take the flower because, no, it wasn’t ok. I’m not a mom. And, although I spend my workdays with children and feel that maternal role throughout my week, it’s not the same thing. It doesn’t take the place of being a mother to your own children and Mother’s Day should be about those mothers.

As the years go by, I realize how difficult Mother’s Day is for many people. I have precious people in my life who lost their moms when they were young, who are estranged from their children, who don’t have a close relationship with their mom, or who ache to have children of their own. So even though Mother’s Day is a ‘Hallmark Holiday,’ it doesn’t lessen the emotions, happy or sad as they may be.

So, will I have moments of reflecting on what I’m missing this Mother’s Day? Absolutely. But, I treasure my mom and my sister, my aunt and my grandma and I celebrate them and their role in supporting and loving me and their children. I’ll always want for something I don’t have. I’ll never be completely satisfied this side of heaven. So, even though I catch glimpses of want, my joy in the Lord remains strong. My place, my home, my family is filled with my soulmates – those friends and family members I keep the closest. In those relationships, grace abounds and Christ’s love never fails.

Messengers

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The act of ‘listening’ isn’t always hearing the spoken word. God’s messages come to me in various formats . . . I just have to pay attention and realize that He’s speaking to me through them. I’ve been consistently worshipping at other churches since last fall, and at the same church for the past two months. Before ‘trying out’ a new church, I comb websites for program offerings, Sunday morning education classes, and worship service times and styles. I use this information to ‘make my plan’ for Sunday morning (after all, I am an ISTJ . . . . it’s in my nature to plan). But, putting my plan aside, I have a keen awareness of the place and the people when I worship with a new congregation. I soak it all in. I pay attention to every detail. I listen. I become aware that God led me to this place at this time. He directs people in my path that I should listen and pay attention to. So, even though I’ve arrived with my ready-made-agenda for Sunday morning, I listen to others who recommend or invite me to a class and I roll with it. I forgo my plans and see others as messengers.

Earlier this month, I perused the order of worship one Sunday morning during service and a new Monday evening Bible study caught my eye. It was described as a weekly study where participants would dive into the Word. I want to open my Bible. I want to be challenged. I crave deep, inspiring conversations centered around the Word. I seek to learn new things about Jesus Christ and how He is working in my life. I did a double-take. The description of this class was exactly what I had been praying for. So, I emailed the contact person later that day and was in attendance at the first meeting. At first glance, that initial gathering was not what I expected. It was not for me. Aside from a couple of folks who are about a decade older than I am, everyone else in the group is twice my age . . . and beyond. To say that a fuss was made about me . . . a single, blonde, smiling stranger in her 30s . . . is an understatement. The class was thrilled to welcome me and encouraged me to share about myself and my insights. And, I . . . well, I was hesitant. I wasn’t sure if this was what I wanted. I found I was talking myself out of it. But, as I reflected on my drive home from class that evening, I realized my only hesitation surrounding this new opportunity was that it didn’t ‘look like’ what I wanted it to ‘look like.’

What if what God wants for me is different than what I think I want for myself?

What if it ‘looks different’ than I expect?

Whatever unspoken expectations I had for this group or ‘ideal’ I had painted in my mind quickly became trivial. The blessing of being part of this group is that it fills a void in my life. It’s my chance to open my Bible and talk about the Christian faith with those who have been on their journey much longer than I have. It’s a chance to learn from those who have lived more, loved a lot, and lost much more than me. It is exactly where God wants me to be. It is an answer to my prayer.

I look at most decisions as ‘right now’ decisions, not ‘forever’ decisions. For right now, this experience is helping me learn more about Christ. It has me opening my Bible on a consistent basis. I am in community with other believers. Will I study with this group forever? No. But that doesn’t diminish the significance of this opportunity in my life right now. Thank God for His messengers and for the insight I have to listen when He calls.

Curiosity

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“Church isn’t a social club.”
 
A friend shared this simple statement with me and I can’t get it out of my mind. I’ve been reflecting on church A LOT lately. My mindset has always been that unless I move away or get married and go to a different church with my spouse, then I would attend the same church for life. I’ve believed it’s about the congregation, the people, and not just the pastors and programs that come and go. That through struggles and joys and heartbreaks and celebrations, I would be a faithful member of that congregation. But, it’s not about the community of faith. Although that sounds harsh, that’s not what’s most important about keeping me at my church. Sometimes that’s the very thing that can be distracting….if the social aspects become the priority and growing in faith takes a back seat. It’s God and my faith and the challenge to learn and grow in Christ. That’s the church I want to be an active member of. I want to grow spiritually within that kind of community, through those programs, in that place. And, when I am completely honest, my faith has stagnated. I’m yearning for more. I feel I’m at the cusp of a greatness God has planned for me. And, that greatness includes stepping away from my church, from that community of faith that is so familiar, and into exploring this curiosity. I’m stepping out and following God.
 
Sometimes, my doubts about venturing elsewhere manifest themselves into thoughts that I’m giving up. The ‘honeymoon’ period is over. I’ve been at my church for ten years. It’s all so very familiar. Many relationships go through rocky patches and dry spells and periods of doubt and a ‘desert experience.’ The excitement just isn’t there like it once was. I’m overly comfortable, just going through the motions. But, I feel this undeniable need to explore what else is out there. I’m ready for something new. I want passion and life. I crave deep conversations and new insights to wrestle with and challenge me. I seek new teachers and yearn for a new welcoming community. I’ve had many different teachers in my life and have had a richer faith journey because of them. 
 
‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
 
But, what about the community of faith? I struggle with this. The community is so very important. The community is who is there when pastors and programs come and go. They’re the ones bringing meals and praying together and opening up their hearts in small groups. They share their faith with me and I share with them. They are the lifeblood of the church. But, what if the community just isn’t enough anymore? What if God wants to shake me from the ultra familiar? 
 
I don’t know what all of this means, so I’ve been listening. I’ve been present each and every week, whether it’s at my current church, or with a new congregation. I’m soaking it all in. It’s humbling to be a visitor again. Aware of the way the congregation treats those who are new. How they reach out to welcome me. The anonymity is a rare departure from my everyday life. In these new settings within other congregations, I’m looking at my faith with a fresh perspective. I believe it is here that God wants to renew me. I believe it is here that He will speak to me in an undeniable way and let me know that ‘this is the place; this is right where I want you to learn and grow and be for the next leg of your journey.’ 

Trust

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Do you trust me? – God
 
God has done amazing work in my life over the past seven months. I can’t explain it other than to say ‘I feel different.’ I know that’s not very profound, but only I can feel what I’m feeling and I just feel different. Better. More like myself. Not distracted. It’s awesome! My period of complete separation from Distraction this past summer was the help I needed to ‘get off the merry-go-round’ and trust God with who I am. God is enough and I am going to be ok without a romantic relationship, marriage, family. This is not really a profound truth . . . but it took a lot of tears and fist-shaking and confusion and confiding and trusting to embrace that simple statement. I had to trust God with my personal life like never before. If I never experience what so many others my age get to experience, am I going to survive? I will. I am going to be ok. I am going to live for what I have, not for what I yearn. God’s love is sufficient for me. It’s more than enough.  
 
With that being said, I knew all along that it would be pretty impossible for me to shut Distraction out of my life forever. We have several very close mutual friends, so avoiding him means avoiding them in many circumstances and that just isn’t an option for me. These are some of the dearest people in my life and he is a part of them. I want him to be in my life. I feel he is in my life for a reason. And, so I let him back into my life this fall . . . slowly. A conversation here and there, then some texts and emails, then some phone calls, and then several lunches and dinners out, just the two of us. 
 
This is when I put my ‘feeling different’ into practice. I didn’t allow myself to be swept away. I was open and honest and real with him like I was in the past, but with the understanding that he valued me as a friend, nothing more. And, that’s what I wanted. Nothing more. Just friends. I’ve had people in my life tell me to never speak to him again. That I could never just be friends with him after the road I’ve been down. But, I don’t believe that. For me, it’s separating the person Distraction is from the ideal of who I wanted Distraction to be.  
 
So, tonight I came home from a gathering of close friends and he was there. As I drove home, I came close to tears. Why? I caught myself watching him a few times over the course of the afternoon. Not because I wanted to be with him, but because I wanted to be with the idea of him. Today, I mourned the loss of what I wanted him to be. How unfair to Distraction is that?! God truly opened my eyes last summer and I realized Distraction is not a good fit for me, he wouldn’t make me laugh (as one dear friend said), he doesn’t hold dear the things I value so much, such as my music and quality time together, he views life as glass-half-empty, not glass-half-full like I do. Being together just wouldn’t work. But, regardless, I was still sad as I reflected on our time together this afternoon. I haven’t had anything close to these feelings since the summer and it felt almost foreign to catch a glimpse of those emotions again.
 
Yearning for that ideal. I don’t even know what that is. It’s make-believe. What I realized over the summer was trusting God with all that I am and all that I have brought me peace. When I took control, I felt like I was going crazy. When I was in the driver’s seat, I felt out of control. Trust. Trust for today. Strength for the moment. This is what God has been laying on my heart. Trust is my word for 2014. My pastor told me that trust is in every part of my journey. It’s an integral part of my Christian faith. It’s not separate. It’s the way I view the world. It’s the foundation of my relationships. It’s at the center of the decisions that I make. I’ve been reflecting a lot on this truth because I just don’t trust very well. I don’t trust people with who I am. I hold on to things tightly with a gripped fist and call them mine.
 
‘If I do it the way I want to, it’s just better that way.’
 
‘If I open up to someone, they might hurt me.’
 
‘It’s so hard to trust in God’s will for my life when I want what I don’t have.’
 
Why trust? Why now? I don’t need to know now. My word will be revealed as I continue the journey. My words become the fabric of who I am. My life is enriched by my experiences reflecting on and experiencing them. I now live my life more JOYfully than before. I LISTEN for God in all circumstances, not just hearing Him, but engaging all of my senses in discerning His call. It’s profound that trust is my word AFTER my experiences of letting go of Distraction this summer. During that time, I trusted God like I never had before. I gave Him all of it and told Him I was finished. It felt amazing. It changed me. A veil was removed and my true self was able to shine. I pray that everyone who is close to me gets to experience this.
 
Do I trust God? Absolutely! I trust in this amazing journey . . . . every moment by grace-filled moment throughout 2014 and forever.
 
 
 
 

Waiting

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It’s so ironic that in one of my recent blog posts, I made a comment about not lacking for things to write about. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing now is writer’s block or not, but I have not been wrestling with thoughts and feelings and naming them like I was during the summer and early fall. It could be that I’ve moved out of that period of angst. Praise God! Or, it could be that it’s just much more difficult for me to stop and reflect and simply be during this busy time of year. Oh how I long for my quiet evenings on the patio where I looked to the clouds and reflected and dreamed and captured those thoughts here! During this time of the year, my precious summer patio resembles more of a neglected, abandoned wasteland than a tranquil, verdant escape.
 
This Christmas season, I’m reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s daily devotional, God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting. It’s expectation and anticipation. On the Christian calendar, Advent is the season in which we await the birth of Jesus. I’ve never thought of the word ‘Advent’ in any other context before now. For me, the miracle of Christ’s birth represents all that I believe. But, Bonhoeffer states that our entire lives are, in a sense, a season of Advent. We always exist in a state of waiting. After waiting for a lifetime, we find heaven and glory and eternal life and unending joy and peace.
 
But, the Advent that preludes Christmas, is a time of waiting in which I know what gift is at the end of the journey. The waiting is finite and known. On December 25th, we celebrate Christ’s birth. This kind of waiting is easy. It’s expected. It’s almost whimsical. I count down to the day on an Advent calendar. There aren’t any unknowns. But, what about those things I wait for where there isn’t a timeline? This type of waiting is really hard for me.  
 
My times are in your hands. ~ Psalm 31:15
 
I am in a period of waiting right now, but I’m not sure what I’m even waiting for. It’s not quite a displeasure or discontent. It’s not all-consuming and it’s not unpleasant. The wind is blowing. It’s a stirring. It’s the product of reflecting on my Christian walk and where God wants to take me next. It’s knowing that where I am is not where He wants me to stay. It’s knowing there will be discomfort and hardships, yet confidence that joy awaits at the culmination of this journey. God has hidden the time table from me and I sometimes focus on figuring that out and miss the here and now. The hectic pace of this Christmas season makes it difficult for me to live into this waiting. It’s so easy to be distracted by the noise and bustle and lists. Even settling myself this week to reflect on my life has been challenging. It’s like all of my senses are heightened during this time of year. My life feels so much more frantic.
 
I believe God truly wants us to live into the moments of waiting. Waiting is a season all it’s own and there is much to be gained from the reflection and doubt and discernment and prayer. Sometimes, God has me wait because there is a better opportunity down the road that He’s not ready to share with me yet. Sometimes I wait so that I truly appreciate where I am. I wait so I have time to see if something is really in His will. The waiting, the unknown, it’s exciting. It’s like a wrapped present under the tree. It’s the anticipation and expectancy of what that gift might contain. But, it can also be extremely frustrating. The not knowing and expectation and guessing what could be next can be exhausting. Sometimes I just want to know what God’s plan is and be able to count down the days.
 
And, so I wait. I wait with joyful expectation that each day holds an Advent all it’s own. It’s in the waiting that we call out to God, that we question, that we wonder and dream. God is in the waiting, He is present with us. He brings us through all of the Advent stages of our lives into glorious new beginnings. For now, during this season of Advent, I will worship in the waiting. . . .