Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

Sunday morning

I was fearful about many things.

Sunday morning: Stung.
You know the Sting?
Someone acts like they care, and then halfway through the conversation you realize it was really about them, to get themselves something or to stop something that bothered them.
Ouch.

And I had anxieties.
Cast your cares on the Lord.
Well, I did.
Picture me throwing (I have bad aim)
To Jesus (he’s an amazing catcher)
Naming just first names of my cares, people for whom I care, or situations in a word.

But it was odd:
The more I threw the cares,
And he caught them, and that care was lifted,
More cares came up.

It was like seeping in through cracks.
I have cracks?
Well yes.

Like a tire with a nail in it,

Like a sinking rowboat I was bailing while water seeped in.
You know that feeling?
Can I bail fast enough for long enough just to reach shore?

But God…But GOD!
Gave me time out.
I sat in my car during choir practice.

I wrote my heart to Jesus:
I am way too anxious, Lord.
Forgive me?
Hold me?
Smile?

My heart lightened.
I felt I should read my email, and there was this post:
The Only True Antidote to Worry.

I read it and I soaked in her answer.
“Thy will be done.”
I knew it by heart, for I recite the Lord’s prayer more often than weekly.

Thy will be done.

Thy will be done in each of those things I threw to you!

That tire with the puncture image comes nearest to what happened next.
There’s this stuff you can squirt into a tire instead of air and the air pressure pushes the stuff to the leak so that it fills the leak, sealing the tire again, and then you can put air in to fill the tire up.

I prayed deeply, thy will be done in everything, and the Holy Spirit was that sealant. It was at that point that I realized there were cracks that had been letting in worry, fear, and doubt.

Sealed with the Holy Spirit is a biblical promise from Jesus.
I never thought of it being a sealant effect from the inside out to make me strong against the temptation to disbelief!

I hope it lasts.
Forever!

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to worry about it lasting because He will last: He will keep his promises to me. All of them are yes in Christ.

All praise and thanks to him!

Linking up with Holley and Arabah Joy:

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I need…rest

In Finding Spiritual Whitespace, chapter 1, Bonnie Gray ends with a question:

What is your heart’s desire for whitespace most reflected in?

a blank page

a white canvas

a quiet silence

a cool, dark night

an open field

an intimate corner of a cafe

other?

I sat for a timeless moment drinking in the beauty of each of these suggested things, testing them against a very quiet voice, my voice (not God’s still small voice), and waited. Finally it came, “those are all good, but what I crave is an open day with no structure.”

The funny thing was, I was writing this on such a day. Sabbath Saturday. I suppose it was affirming, but the thing that shocked me was how deeply I felt the need. I’m craving a year of Sabbath Saturdays. Should I block them off? Maybe, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday: make no plans ahead?

A space for whatever comes. No stress. Creative time, serendipitous time, family time, down time, free…

Then I remembered.

Back in 2004, I discovered Thin Within in the window of a storefront that boasted free books to swap, encouraging literacy in New Haven, CT. Subtitled A Grace Based Approach to Lasting Weight-loss, it drew me like a magnet. I flipped through and saw Bible verses on every page. I was still in the baby focused (okay, she was 4) stage where I spent no money on myself, but this was free! I took it home.

I’d been trying for a week to follow what a friend at Bible study had told me about the South Beach diet: you can eat chocolate covered almonds! But when we got back together and I asked her, like how many? She said oh, 6 or so and I realized I’d scarfed 20. That’s when I realized I had a problem.

This book? It was a God-send. It was grace, for my need. I lost 40 pounds that fall, delightfully. I didn’t stress to follow rules, I read when I felt the need to read more, half a chapter, a bit at a time. Listening to my body, listening to God. Most of the 40 has stayed off, but I do forget to listen, let stress or anxiety overwhelm me. So, the need for stress-less unplanned days.

When I was reading Thin Within, I got to a chapter that asked what lies I was believing and how that affected me. There was a blank chart for me to fill in. As if? Okay, so I did. There was a space for three things (which now makes me wonder if there’d been space for more would I have filled in more?), and one of the things I wrote was:

“There’s no time for me.”

After all, I was constantly watching over a baby, then a toddler, now a preschooler. A single child. That means no ready playmate at home, so mom is called in to play and she, being a late thirty-something, has forgotten how to play, has to relearn play, has to follow the child’s direction…at least that was how my situation was tending. I was laying down my life, right?

The consequence of the lie that there was no time for me was that I didn’t recognize and plan for me time when it came. I had filled up any free time with non-helpful things. I didn’t have a plan for when my free time came.

So then I resolved to grab my little journal, the one with a quote and a margin to write in.

The free time came and I recognized it and for ten minutes while she played by herself I sat nearby and read and wrote my own thoughts. Pretty soon the ten minutes grew. I was getting a half hour to read and write and pray!

I started to realize that I didn’t recognize the time because I couldn’t schedule it, but God could provide the free time I needed, and I could thankfully receive it. I could rest in his provision. I could trust God to be in control, even of my time and things that happened in my day.

It’s been ten years since that blinding insight and I’ve apparently had to relearn it many times, had to see the consequence of forgetting (I snap something ugly at my loved ones when I’m under the clock and unable to control them. I hate that. My only way out, as I see it, is to remember that God can be in control, better than me. His strength is so much better than my weakness!), and had to pray daily for God’s love to fill me so that I could love my people with his love.

Provision of time.

God will provide.

God will meet me in my need, and will restore my soul.

All praise and thanks to him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!

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Linking up with Bonnie for the book club here.

Feed my Soul

Linking up with Bonnie today about “what I love to do that feeds my soul” only my writing turned introspective and hearkened back to some of the highlights of my life in terms of soul feeding…so I’m not sure it fits in easily, but it’s where I went with the prompt. Boldly sharing:

“When I run I feel his pleasure!” Eric Liddell said.
What is it, when you do, you feel the pleasure of God?
A few nights ago we watched a tightrope walker across Chicago’s river. He gave thanks to God and he said, “I was made for this.”
How wonderful that feeling is, that joy!
I have sometimes felt it.
I think so, anyway.
What do you think?
A long time ago I sat alone in prayer and realized that lust can’t have any power over dead people. “Do you not know you have died with Christ?” I heard it echoing in my mind from our Colossians study a few days previously. I praised the Lord, and have not struggled with lust since. (If you never heard that women can struggle with lust we can discuss it.)
Another time I returned to my one bedroom apartment, the bedroom set aside for the baby we were trying to teach to sleep through the night alone (that’s another story) and cried to God about the friend’s house I had just helped clean to show for sale. I had forgotten it was in the ten commandments: thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house. But once it was applied by the Holy Spirit to my heart, I could confess and have not had one bit of house envy since.
When people speak of never really being freed from sin this side of heaven, I do have to speak up. I don’t know about being freed from all sin and never sinning again in this life in any way, but I do know the freedom from temptation in particular areas that God’s healing forgiveness has given to me.
James said it was our own evil desire that entices us. Not God. Not even the advertisements. (Who that has a brand new car is tempted by a different new car ad?) It’s my sin-broken heart that leads me astray. It’s God’s work through his Word combined with the power of the Holy Spirit that has freed me, heart and soul.
One more story. I was going to be going to England for a month last May, so about a year ago now I asked God, “Could you please heal my milk allergy? It sure would be fun to drink milk in England, to be free to eat whatever.” I asked it in a sort of little girl crawling into Daddy’s lap to ask a favor, confident he could do it but fine if he decided it was not good. He did heal me, (I think two things factored into the process but I didn’t make the connection at the time) and I can’t deny it but must give him praise.
Three stories.
Not really directly answering the question of what is it that when I do, I feel his pleasure. But let me try to draw out a common theme. Listening to the word of God and responding to it, humbly depending on the Holy Spirit to work what I cannot do. Then praising him, remembering and celebrating his gift.
I most feel his pleasure when I realize he is with me, loves me, is healing me. Something like, when I know I am on the right road in this life.

A love relationship with God, no matter what I’m doing.

I’m so excited to start the Finding Spiritual Whitespace bookclub; to journal through the book that Bonnie wrote in context of this community, as if leading this community, and now is leading those who opt in! I invite you along: like her FaceBook page and join us with a copy of the book and a journal (I’ll be using my Christmas gift journal).

More answers to the question from other bloggers are at Bonnie’s (click here to read).

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My One Word

Have you followed the one word movement?

It’s where you wait prayerfully for an idea, a word, maybe a verse of scripture that has one specific word in it, and you claim that as the word for the year, the unifying idea, the focus. These are good. I need a rubric from which to think, especially from which to make decisions. Before I heard of this movement I had a few little experiences with the nudging of the Holy Spirit that gave me an idea of what the future was going to be about, and as the year progressed I saw how I needed them.

Sometime in the fall I read a post suggesting that we could keep the same word from last year. The author (sorry, I don’t know how to search for who it was!) said she hadn’t fulfilled her word, and was going to keep going with it another year. I felt convicted because my year of grace

OneWord2014was supposed to be where I listed all the ways God showed his grace to us this year. It was a faith building project, and I was going to write, like the Gratitude movement, the specific times I saw God work in my life to give more than sustenance, to pour out his grace on my undeserving self.

Or I could write a year in review.

But somehow I was stuck. Life was really a bit too full last fall, and I was teaching writing so my own writing scaled back dramatically. Funny how that goes! On the other hand my own writing sharpened up too, as I reviewed and learned new things in teaching a college class of mostly first-years. Christmas was colored with the grading needing to be done, New Years week was a time to plan ahead for the spring with the Homeschooling community where I’m teaching English, History, and organizing a science fair and an Amtrak field trip, but then the next week, the first week of the year, we had a family vacation.

We went to San Diego by train, where we picked up a rental car and drove to the airport to pick up my husband’s parents and brother, and then we headed to a beach house on a spit of land beyond SeaWorld, right on the ocean. Monday through Friday we rested. We saw the San Diego Zoo, Sea World, and the Maritime museum and San Diego waterfront, and the new library downtown. We bought new mugs (we’re collectors, usually of college mugs, but other special ones are in daily use), we ate well, and on Friday we drove up to La Jolla on a cloudy bright day and took pictures of seals and surf, ate Pho together (my Father-in-law grew up in Vietnam) and headed back to the airport and train station.

All the while I’m praying about a new word.

It’s a new year, but I’ve eased into the New Year.

Arabah Joy posted about getting the most out of a new word.

Sabbath came to my mind. I didn’t connect with the fact that we started the year with a vacation! But I thought of how I wanted to make more out of my sabbaths, set them aside more, to read devotionals, to slow down and catch up with myself, to look for God, to write.

I continued to think of sabbath and realized it’s my 50th year, and could this be my own year of Jubilee? What do I know of jubilee? there’s a Michael Card song which includes the words, “sins forgiven, slaves set free: Jesus is our Jubilee” and this keeps running through my mind (I don’t mind continual repeat) when I think of Jubilee. Returning things to others that have found a place in my home but were only supposed to be borrowed. That’s on my do-list! Returning to our inheritance? What can that mean? If it is part of it, perhaps God will make that happen, as long as I am willing to see?

The Millers came over Sunday night. They drive down to a Messianic congregation about an hour’s drive away, every Saturday, to play worship music. So they sleep in on Sundays and join us for evening prayer service (Lutheran style) in our home at 5:30 and dinner after. Rosalynn brought me a scripture that they’d read the day before, said God nudged her to bring it to Beth. As she read it, with some explanations, my spirit thrilled to the word and caught glimpses of hope.

Therefore, say to the people of Isra’el: ‘I am ADONAI: I will free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, rescue you from their oppression, and redeem you with an outstetched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am ADONAI your God, who freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land which i swore to give to Avraham, Yitz’chak and Ya’akov–I will give it to you as your inheritance. I am ADONAI. (Ex. 6:6-8, Hebrew Bible)

Rosalynn had said they weren’t gardening this year because it was a year of sabbath, where you let the ground rest. I didn’t realize it’s the Jewish year of sabbath (there’s another word), although not the year they celebrate jubilee.

So I think my word for the year is SABBATH meaning more than just take a break on Saturdays, and I hope God is making that sabbath year our personal year of JUBILEE as we turn 50 in November (husband) and December. Or we celebrate Jubilee next year? I don’t quite know yet. It’s enough for me to have guidance day by day with an overarching hope of sabbath year, jubilee’s coming! (Because it would have been 7×7=49 and then 50th is jubilee, right?) My heart is singing, “Sins forgiven, slaves set free, Jesus is our jubilee!” (Sometimes I get it wrong and sing saints set free!)

I still plan to take some sabbath time to write about the grace God poured out in 2014 and reflect as well as write about this year and future hope.

Linking up with Faith Barista Bonnie Gray and the others who write brave hope at Beloved Brews (click here):

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Why do we celebrate for twelve days? It’s not to get more gifts! Although it does give us a chance to shop the after Christmas sales and turn them into gifts under the tree as well, or gifts for friends and family with whom we are meeting up after Christmas day.

The game changer (an idiom I learned from my writing students) came when I had a baby, 14 or so years ago. Ten months (11 years) of waiting, and then the baby came! I was astonished to receive for her one present a day for a month. Some came with friends bringing dinner, other days with the mailman. Literally, one a day for a month. How could that not have been God orchestrating? The celebrating wasn’t over in a day. Why then should I celebrate the birth of Jesus for only one day? Prepare for 24 days and then celebrate for only one?
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Sit with it. Or maybe I should say, roll with it (another idiom). That first month the baby and I sat on the old blue couch, nursing, sleeping on Mommy, bonding. The time of intense inactivity grew my heart for the child. The time of keeping Christmas after the 25th also grows my heart. The presents I give, the meetings with friends, the joy shared because of the love of God all somehow grow stronger as the shopping world moves on but the grace of time extends. (This year it was a much needed grace, for our college semester didn’t end until Monday 12/29 when the grades were due at noon.)

Embrace the future in light of Christmas. Is it an accident that New Years Day comes in the middle of the 12 days of Christmas, still rising to Twelfth Night and Epiphany? I held my baby and we thought of how our life would change: of the things we would want to do together, show her, take her to see things and meet people. New Year resolutions, or better yet, One Word seeking (where you pray for God to give you one word to focus on for the coming year, like Yes, or Grace, or Love) should be done with the Baby and all His life before you in mind. Hold him, hold on to him, and ponder.

This year what struck me in the Christmas story as we played it out in our tiny congregation Christmas Eve and then at the Rescue Mission on Chrismas night and then as I watched The Nativity movie with Ravinia on Christmas day 2, was how God directed each person to do their part. They didn’t know the whole story, but when they met each other, they recognized something. Elizabeth somehow knew from Mary’s greeting, and told her what she knew. Joseph trusted an angel in a dream, two or three times! Shepherds recognized the child, and told the parents what angels had said. Simeon, and Anna, in the temple, rejoiced and spoke. Magi read God’s stars and came to acknowledge him. All of them were trusting God, not men. All were able to say, this is what I know from God.

But Herod, with evil intent, found out from scripture the name of Bethlehem. Herod didn’t trust God, so he acted terribly, ordering the death of many so as to appease his sinful fear. But God still directed those who listened to him. The magi returned home a different way (they dreamed of angels and believed them too!), Joseph woke in the night and took Mary and her son away. Were there others in Bethlehem who dreamed of angels also that night? Were there some who heard the passing angel and also took warning? Or did they all awake to forget their dreams, live their usual morning until they heard the soldiers come?
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My child is now 14. Jesus is at the Father’s right hand, waiting to be sent again to earth in glory. But still I hold the child in my heart and still I hope for grace. Still I lean in to a new year in the midst of these twelve days of rejoicing and I pray for growth in me, for guidance from God, for his will to be done in our lives for our joy and his glory.

All thanks and praise to God!

Chasing Grace

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This is the year I look for God’s grace abounding to me.

And I meant to write about it much more than I have.

Have I not been looking?

Or seeing and not thanking?

Thanking and not writing?

Wasting my time?

There have been so many ways God has poured out grace to me. What kind of work is better than writing it down? What other kind of work keeps my perspective clear, my heart light, my mind engaged? What have I been thinking? What has distracted me?

I have a long list (of graces, not distractions!).

Since I cannot go back in time, I can only walk forward.

The son who said, “No,” to his father but then obeyed, that’s the one the Father commends. So talking about what we did wrong is fine but turning around to do right is what is important. I will thank and praise the Lord while I have time, while I have breath.

One distraction came up rather suddenly. I was asked to teach a Composition course at Westmont, and had only one week to get things ready. I’ve been busy with that, more than you can imagine. But it doesn’t completely take over my days.

I still teach middle school homeschoolers, American Literature and History this year. Our history is more of a history club; a chance for watching related movies, for making food, drawing art, learning about each others’ historical reading and about paintings by major American artists. I enjoy the kids and enjoy the things we do together but there again the planning is what takes time and where I fret.

Oh to count it a grace instead.

My dad is doing fairly well. He is packing his own pills for his Parkinson’s, usually has three meals a day, one of which I cook and the first I contribute to by preparing a yogurt/banana shake and the granola he will eat with it, whenever he is awake enough to do so. It is so encouraging to see Dad up and active again. I thank God for his improved health and his good routine. He has a project too, changing his Greek primer into an interactive, online program. But he doesn’t get to work on it very often because of the irregularity of his sleep needs.

Recently I was reading Genesis 3 again, in a Bible study (I think) and the supplemental text was pointing out God’s grace to Adam and Eve after the fall. It was God’s grace to forbid them to eat from the tree of life since they’d already sinned: if they ate would they not have been able to be redeemed? I had been familiar with that thought, but as I read, “I will put enmity between” the seed of the woman and the serpent, I thought, this too is grace. Not that there was enmity between the singular seed (Jesus) but in the plural of seed (all of us) and the serpent (Satan). Can you imagine if there were no enmity between us and Satan? If there were no restlessness which caused us to yearn for something better? Our true home? Our loving wise Father? Thank you, God, for the dissatisfaction that comes when I sin!

I’ve kept a gratitude list, and I’m working on a grace journal.

Where have you seen God’s grace in your life?

Thank and praise the Lord with me!

Begin Again

After about a two month hiatus, I am here again. Happy August to you all! I have much to write, and I’ll start with the Five Minute Friday on Begin because I’m beginning to write here again. I’ll start with a reflection I told my husband:

I remember a lady in our church in Boston asking me, “Why did the Greeks forsake their gods? They seemed to do well for them.”

“Because they met the one true God, I guess,” I had replied.

It struck me, first that her question was so illiterate and then second that it was a good, an absolutely good question for us today. The assumption of God’s supremacy can’t be taken anymore.

First I had to realize what was good about the Greeks’ gods. They told stories that explained things. Stories that told truth about the human heart. Self knowledge is good, and I especially resonated with one particular story which gave words to what I was going through.

Stories of the Greek gods are like philosophy and psychology intwined. There’s a certain helpful wisdom in them. But they aren’t enough to change me. They can describe and make me feel comfortable with what is, or excuse the bad things but they cannot change the bad ways or make me good. Only God can.

He does.

He loves to change us, to give us chances to begin again.

Second is to ponder on how God is really a God and not just a super-human representative. It is we who are in the image of God, and it takes all of us not one of us to image forth and idea which even still I think he surpasses! Keep thinking about God.

All thanks and praise to him!

Five Minute Friday

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