Your Key to Experiencing Scripture Reading Come Alive and SLOW WORD

(SLOW Word at the bottom. Remember, every Monday and Thursday there will be a Lectio Divina right here. Let’s savor the Word together.)

Perhaps you’d like to read in the quiet. I get that. Or perhaps you are like my sister and you want to be read to today:) I get that too. I’ve got you covered. Check out the very bottom of this page.

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“You are painting a picture without God in it.” My mother was a month from moving day when those words were spoken to her, lifted up before her like a mirror. Dad’s work had moved eight hours away. So like it or not, there would be a moving truck parked in front of the house they had just built and all their furniture would be hauled up a ramp and she would have to listen to the movers with their heavy, hollow, halting steps tramp up and down with pieces of her life.   No family was waiting on the other side of the truck’s journey with a table long enough to receive them. No friend was waiting inside a screened door with a cup of coffee. She would need to start creating a life from scratch. Again.

 

She carried the heavy anxiety and brought it into Delores’ office for them both to turn over in their hands. Delores listened to the fear and then quietly spoke, “Beth, you are painting a picture without God in it.”

 

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And we do that, don’t we? We walk into our day with a picture of what that day will hold…and it rarely has God painted into it. Our imagination mocks us with absence, not Presence. We allow fear to reign and forget that Christ the King is walking beside us.  “I will never leave you or forsake you,” we were told in Hebrews 13:5. Jesus Himself gave this one last statement to the disciples to echo down through his disciples’ hearts for the centuries to come: “And surely I AM with you to the very end of the age,” (Matthew 28:30).

 

The picture of our future is completely different with God inside the frame.  When Jesus is present, the picture of our future sparkles with light, with ungathered joys, and there is always a full table set.

 

Writer and preacher Gregory Boyd in Seeing is Believing says this, “If Christ IS with us, isn’t picturing Him present actually more true than picturing an existence without Him?”

Christ present is the promise.

Christ reigning is the truth.

Christ WITH us is the essence of His name: IMMANUEL.

And THIS, my Friends, changes everything.

 

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But stay with me through this transition. Christ Present not only transforms our tomorrow, it changes how we do life today. Profoundly.

 

When we live picturing Christ present, we are saying yes to reality and framing our lives to fit the truth.

 

And here’s where this truth connects right here with the SLOW Word movement. When we create space to listen to the word, WITH the WORD, the scriptures come alive. Try it. Try offering Jesus a seat at the table across from you and looking into His eyes as you hear Jesus ask Peter before the betrayal: “Will you really lay down your life for me?” (John 13:38). Ouch.

 

Or try, again looking into His eyes, “If you love me, you will do what I command,” (John 14:15) and see what rises in your soul.

 

Or perhaps try today’s SLOW Word, “Come to Me and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28-29).

 

When you are looking into Jesus’ eyes, the Word of God begins to vibrate with intensity and no longer sits still on the page. It BREATHES. It no longer lies flat. You can no longer pass over to the other side unchanged. The Word is now sitting there between the two of you and it becomes a vital part of the ongoing conversation of your life.

 

This verse from the writer of Hebrews awakens us to the truth: “The Word is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12). Looking into His eyes, awake to His Presence in the present, I ask His Spirit to do His SLOW work, renewing my mind, teaching me to place Him in the frame of my reality, and transforming me through His Word.

 

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(Subscribe on the right to receive more practical keys to the WITH God life and more SLOW Words. And if this, dear friend, is a gift for you, share it with someone you know who may need the encouragement. Set the table for someone else.)

 

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Behold the Lamb of God

It’s when I show up at the Confession on Sunday morning empty handed that I know I’m in trouble. I’ve forgotten the quick cutting down, the self-pity binge, the explosions at bedtime.  I’ve forgotten the pride because pride makes the rest of it go away, a nice little deceptive veneer.  And I’ve skated through the week without any self-examination. And here I am come to Sunday…a little too pious.

 

 

That’s when I know I’m in trouble.

 

Sin sticks so tight to our personalities we can’t see the worry, the people pleasing, the performance, the binging, the unhinged anger for what it is.  We have clicked into reaction mode because really, it’s all about us again.  We’re no longer following Christ. We’ve made a detour and our self-righteousness is just a sign that it’s all just getting a bit rancid in here.

 

The story of Jesus’ coming turns all of this on its head. Christ is born to the poor, the broken open, to the weak and watching, the dying.  He comes to those who know they need a Savior. Christ is reborn in us when we escavate the dead stuff and lay it down at the cross.

 

It’s when I don’t see my need for the One laid in the manger that I know I’m in trouble. When the nostalgia takes over and the warm fuzzies take over, I know I’m not ready. I’m not ready Him. I’m not ready for the sacrificial lamb who volunteered birth on this dark planet in order to set me free.

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Set aside time to listen to your life. Ask for a new revelation of what is keeping you captive, what is damming you up to love. After each question, set aside time to listen to your life:

 

What do you binge on to fill the emptiness…or do you just check out?

 

What happens when you are triggered by fear, loneliness, anger, pain, ungratefulness?

 

Think over a low point from this last week…what was your reactionary behavior? Is there a pattern?

 

Where do you run to when the pain gets strong? (Sleep, Shopping, Food, Tobacco, Computer, Facebook, Alcohol, Religion, Work, Drugs, Gambling, Sexual Addictions?)

What do you use to protect yourself? (Anger, Denial, Pretense, Hiding, Distraction, Isolation?)

 

How do you try to provide for yourself emotionally? (Success, Fame, unhealthy relationships, manipulation, control, money, people pleasing, sexual promiscuity?)

 

How do you punish yourself or others? (Blame, Unforgiveness, Self-contempt, rejections, abusive words, withholding, desire to harm, aggression, shame, criticism, self-abuse, bitterness?)

 

These are all behaviors/sins that keep us from crawling directly to Him when we are needy. We are invited to come empty, uncomfortably empty…but because of the pain we often want to fill, fill, fill.

 

Ask Him for help. Wash the mask off. Stop pretending and pry up the broken places.

 

Get comfortable being broken in His presence, naked even.  It’s the only way to a life of humility. But friend, you don’t have to fear the process. His kindness is gentle, beyond imagination.

 

This prayer could prove to be the key.

Jesus, I have sinned and no longer want ————–to hold me captive. I’m sorry for the pain that I’ve caused myself and others. Thank you for coming and being willing to die for my sins. I accept Your full forgiveness and thank You for it. I pray that You will transform me and clean this area up in my life. Do not let the evil one use this in my life any longer in Jesus Christ’s name. Show me how deep the roots go and redeem the consequences. I want to be transformed and healed. In Jesus name, Amen

 

The good news? Salvation is never His final work in our life. He knows we’re not “done.” Forgiveness keeps doing its good, hard work, ever-deepening, ever-cleansing, healing, transforming.

 

You, my friend, He died so that you might have Life with Him (1 Thessalonians 5:10) and this just might be the next step beautiful step toward the manger, toward the with-God life.

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Searching for Resurrection

Crabapple trees in pink frills process down my new street. All winter I wondered what color they would wear. Their miniature crabapples  fell onto the sidewalks and gave the early robins something to eat in the cold. Still, they kept their secret. Now I’m showered with fragrance as I pass them on my morning walk.

 

I needed spring.

 

I didn’t just hope for spring, long for spring or crave spring. This year I. needed. it. We moved into a new town, a new empty life right before the dying seasons and by March, I was holding my breath. I hadn’t been writing much, here or in my journal, afraid to go digging in the mucky soil. I was afraid of what I would find. I couldn’t write, couldn’t tunnel down with a trowel into the loam without signs of resurrection.

 

I’ve been a coward.

 

I know the grip of depression, the root ball of the mind squeezing tight. I’ve lived in its tomb before. This year I’ve been waiting…like the earth.

 

Last week, I took a camera with me, the children kicked on scooters creating a rhythm as they slid over the cracks and I went searching…for resurrection.

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Late the next day we drove up to McConnell’s Mill State Park. The children found a sandy spot on the trail by Slippery Rock River and started digging like they were at the beach. Caedmon rested under a tree deep in a book and Andrew took out his fly rod waving it back and forth with nymphs tied on tight for the ride. I went hiking, D60 camera around my neck, looking for light and resurrection.

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Tillium. They push up hidden under a canopy of trees creating constellations of light for those who go into the deep forests to find them. I remember tramping back into our woods behind the North Fairfield house in the wet of early spring and discovering an island covered with trillium. I held my breath as I tiptoed between their stalks afraid they would die if my foot came down heavy.

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In the days that followed I found other constellations of light and tried to drink deep.  But it wasn’t until I started naming the spaces in between, the dark places, that I began to hope. So much of what was making me hold my breath was a fear of rejection. Being new has its gifts but for a girl whose main wounding includes a fear of rejection, being new is like a drive over Gabon’s dirt roads from pothole to pothole, jolted and holding on, exhausting. I began to see patterns of tiny rejections I was holding onto. When was it that I quit writing? When was it that I began to veg out in front of the tv every night? When was it that new experiences made my heart pound hard?

 

We have to name the dark before we can renounce it.

 

I started to pray simply when I felt the shadow passing over, asking this question: what core longing is not being fulfilled? (This core longing list comes from here from Terry Wardle and maybe you remember my conversation about my moving fears and the core longing litany found here.)

Am I lacking:

A safe and secure environment,

constant reinforcement of my personal worth,

the need for repeated messages that I am valued, unique and special,

the need for unconditional love and acceptance,

basic care and nurture,

encouragement to grow and develop my personal gifts and talents,

a pathway to fellowship with you,

a sense of belonging, or

to feel useful and needed.

 

Acknowledging the empty places led me to light. He is always the Source of our core longings…no amount of turning toward the face of another will provide these essentials.

 

In lamenting my lack I was able to open my hands. I was able to stop the search, open my hands and ask the Provider.

 

Halfway through my hike, I had taken out my iphone and clicked. I breathed in the mist foaming up around the waterfall but I didn’t see THIS until my husband commented on it days later:

 

Light was streaming in.

 

In the midst of my maniacal search for resurrection, I had been bathed in unknown light. I breathed out slowly. He had always been present on the road. Resurrection had found me.

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linking with the lovely Jen Ferguson and the Soli Deo Gloria sisters

and joining with Jennifer’s community of storytellers...and boy, she will lift you up and speak encouragement straight into your eyes today: Don’t Give up.

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Encouragement 101: Don’t Give Up

I see it in their eyes, the fast deflate.

 

They had just pried opened their ribs and shown their blood-pulsing hearts to a primetime audience of millions…and they were not picked.

 

And it is here that a decision will be made. They will keep perfecting their craft, keep singing for their life, or let discouragement drown their dream.

 

And I think, don’t give up…for the love…don’t give up.

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Maddie and I, we curl up on the futon and watch the Voice with its hints of greatness, contestants struggling to emerge and fly.  And I wonder how many who weren’t quite ripe, who weren’t quite ready, will crumble and say that they tried but weren’t quite good enough for the stage. They give up and decide the fight isn’t worth it anymore.

 

But the truth is that they were So. Very. Close.  A year or two more of perfecting their craft, a pushing through and a little more experience and they could have brought a shining gift of beauty to the world.  It’s not that they didn’t have the talent, it’s just that they needed a bit more time gestating.

 

And I want to whisper into their hearts, “Don’t give up…for the love…don’t give up.”

What about you, dear one? Do you hear that same hiss, the one that whispers, “You are not enough, give up before you waste an afternoon, a year, a life?”

 

It’s a lie, that one, a lie that causes talents to be buried six feet under when they could at least be earning interest out in the open air.

 

It’s a lie that causes hearts to be buried under layers of fear. But do you know a secret? They don’t lie quiet down there. They whisper and sing and beg for the open air, and for the love, please dig them up and let them rise.

 

Keep pushing that candle into the darkness, whatever your love-fueled art might be.

Keep working on your craft.

Keep praying and listening and kneading and bringing goodness to the table.

Keep serving the world with your heart open wide.

Keep whispering truth into tiny ears.

Keep sitting down on the bench in front of those black and white keys.

Keep clicking the shutter, pushing “publish,” swirling colors.

Keep writing and listening to the music of the words marching down the page.

And keep flinging seeds…because when the time is ripe, a harvest will emerge.

For the love,

don’t give up.

(photo found here.)

Come along for the journey? Subscribe in the CONNECT box on the front page. Lets pilgrimage together.

Need more encouragement? Find it here.

here with Jennifer Dukes Lee

and here with Holley Gerth

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When We are Confused by our Calling

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Welcome to Word-seeds dear friend.  This is where we pray the Scripture roots into every crevice and crack of our life, breaks up the hard ground.

Word seed is a Bible study that may take longer than a day. We wind around a thought, give questions for meditation and begin to open up the Scripture that you may be hearing this next Sunday. Feel free to stop at a picture question and come back later for a bit more time in the Scripture. This week we are on the rocky shores of the Lake of Galilee with the fishermen cleaning their nets for the day.  Read it in Matthew 4:12-22 before you read here?

(These word seeds will always correspond with the lectionary because I have a need to join others on our common pilgrimage.  Today’s post comes from the gospel, Year A, Epiphany 3)

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Pray that I don’t loose the hands of Jesus in my attempt to feed the poor.

Mother Teresa to Henri Nouwen

 

Kathy Sicard wrapped the scarf tight around my head and the world dimmed. With the second scarf I went blind.  I felt like I had walked into a movie theater late, groping for chairs, hoping I didn’t end up in someone’s lap.  Marie Diebold grasped my hands, facing me, walking backwards. Her voice was low and soft.

 

We were in her house for our Tuesday night inner healing study.  One Tuesday night we went through the lessons, the next Tuesday we gave it to others. It was our first year doing the 16 week Healing Care study by Terry Wardle.

 

Marie guided me slowly through her kitchen, around the butcher block island, the metal sink cupboard from the 60’s, the collection of hanging mugs by the window.  She talked me straight through the narrow kitchen doorway shuffling our feet from the wood floor of the kitchen to the oriental carpet in the living room.  “Walk straight. OK, a small step to the right, and there now, here’s the coffee table. Can you feel it against your legs. Ok stop. Turn left. Walk ahead two steps.” We wound through the downstairs of her farmhouse like this.

 

I do fine with trust exercises like this.  Not so much in real life.  I know God is guiding but  I find myself fumbling wildly for the wall, the doorways, begging to take off the scarf.

 

This scripture reveals my heart.  I’m the one walking in darkness.  I’ve seen the great light but much of the time the brightness doesn’t register.  Let’s just say I don’t spend enough time basking in the glow.

 

So much of my calling has seemed like a straight line. No, that’s not quite true.  There have been plenty of times of uncertainty, I have just repressed them.  I like straight lines. Receive calling. Go to seminary. Work in a church for ten years.

 

Every line looks straighter when looking back right?

 

The truth is that after ten years of parish ministry, I’m down to a congregation of three.  I’m a mom to three blondies with big blueberry eyes and small unwrinkled hands.  I fold them up onto my lap and smell their heads.  I’ve been smelling my children ever since they were born.  Primal, I guess.

 

They are beautiful and I struggle to be an intentional mother, wrapping them in truth and fuzzy blankets at night.  I spread pasta on our table like I’m asking them to take forkfuls of love.  I’m an Italian mama by osmosis after having been born there, I guess.  But my calling?  This is where I struggle.  I like adventure and large purposes.  I like to see where it is that I am headed.  I want to get my hands dirty in the fight. I want to climb in bed at night exhausted for more than just wrestling children into their jammies.

 

So I’m listening to His voice in the Gospel, looking for direction this week.  And it is His words that begin to open up a new way to see my calling inside our brick bungalow.

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Until now, I always saw Christ’s calling of the fishermen as Jesus sending them out on a quest.  Set down your ordinary life and I’ve got a new purpose for you. Something big. Something dynamic.  We’re going to go fish for people! I imagined the disciples going straight from cleaning that fishy smell off their hands to a brainstorming session.  But Jesus’ words indicate something quite different, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Some of the translations leave out the “come” but it’s right there in the Greek. Deute. Come hither. Come follow. The next time we see the verb spoken straight from Jesus’ mouth it is in Matthew 11:29, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.” The literal translation of the Greek here is: “Come follow after me and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

So much of my calling feels like a groping in the dark instead of a knightly quest.  No gallantry. No coming home with the holy grail.

 

But “Come” makes all the difference in the world.  Come means that He is walking in front of me. “Come” means that He is present as I walk forward into the darkness.

 

We are not alone in our callings, we are following.

 

Just the definition of following calls us to walk forward with Someone growing big in our field of vision.  When we follow, He fills our focus.

 

Christ grows bigger as we follow closer.

 

I think over my mental landscape this past week, my mind twisting with that fear that I wasn’t enough, the tantrum at dinner time, the day spent wrapped up tight in disappointment.  How much of my mental landscape is consumed with the One I am supposed to be following?   Perhaps that is the unfortunate answer.

 

Perhaps what or who I am following takes up most of my mental landscape.  

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Marie walked backwards and held my empty hands and I grasped tight.

 

They were the same hands where I had placed the Eucharist bread that tasted of honey and fed us of Jesus. They were the same hands that had massaged my tired pregnant muscles and the same hands I held between mine before she went into surgery to get the cancer cut out.  That Tuesday night in the dark I grasped tight the familiar hands of a friend.  I grasped trust.

 

When they heard the call of Jesus, Andrew and Peter put down nets, families, lives, expectations.  They opened their hands to grasp a hold of His. They opened the tight fists of their lives, and everything fell through.

 

When we open our hands to follow Jesus, we drop the what for the Who.

 

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We drop the tight-fisted control, the shiny magazine lives, the surge for self-expression when we follow the Call.  Following requires the hard purging.  Following requires repentance. Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near.  It requires setting down  everything heavy.  It requires the healing of the fears that have us tangled in their nets.

 

But perhaps following is freedom, the first steps onto heavenly ground, arms empty, lifted in worship.

 

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I want to go back to school to get a counseling degree.  I want to write. I want to be a midwife to God’s redemption, do spiritual direction and inner healing prayer.  I want to get back into the life of the church.  Right now I feel shut out of all the callings that make me feel most at home.  But perhaps that’s the point.  This move is stretching me and stretching sometimes happens so fast it leaves scars.

 

I think Jesus understands the strangeness of being sent away from the comfortable.  After his desert temptation, Jesus was not welcomed home. His hometown of Nazareth had not been able to transform their definitions from Jesus the carpenter son of Joseph to Jesus the Christ.

 

Just like old times, on the Sabbath He had sat with the others in the Synagogue, rolled out the scroll, found the job description of the Messiah in Isaiah 61. These were the verses I imagine kept him awake at night. His mission.

 

THE mission that all other callings reflect back.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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But people don’t want to “know” their Messiah, their neighbor. They want celebrity and a charismatic Samson who will fight their enemies with the jawbone of a lion.  They don’t want their Messiah to be the boy that grew up on their front lawns.

 

And so Jesus found himself homeless with a mission still burning deeply. He was kicked out of the synagogues and into the streets.  But, again, perhaps that was the gift.

 

I found this in Barclay’s Gospel of Luke: “Jesus would go anywhere men would listen to him.” Then Barclay links us to John Wesley’s journey,

“Our [Methodist] societies were formed from those who were wandering upon the dark mountains, that belonged to no Christian Church; but were awakened by the preaching of the Methodists, who had pursued them through the wilderness of this world to the higheays and the Hedges—to the Markets and the Fairs—who set up the standard of the Cross in the Streets and Lanes of the Cities, in the Villages, in the Barns, and Farmers’ Kitchens…”

Barclay says in closing, “When the Synagogue was shut, Jesus took to the open road.”

 

Same mission. Different location.  Same purpose. If the mission burns within us, we proclaim it wherever we can. The kitchen table or the internet. We implant it as hope into a friend’s heart, or whisper it into our daughter’s hair.

 

We join His mission and it becomes our heartbeat: Proclaim. Release. Restore. Redeem.

 

Wherever we are.

 

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Would you like weekly Word-Seeds to be slipped into your email?  Slip your email address into the Connect button on the front page of “a thirst for God.” Let’s pray that the Word plants in all the crevices of our lives.

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Writing in community with the lovely Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

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My One Word: Acceptance. The Antidote to Anxiety, Part 1

You’ve seen her too.

 

She comes home from that date when their voices whispered late into the night and she walks slowly, head up, hips swinging a bit wider. She moves through the day, his words to her still forcing a glow.

 

She is loved, desired. Chosen.

 

She smiles slow. She has no misconceptions of perfect and perfect’s no longer important. She is desired. She doesn’t have to strain for love, prove her worthiness for it.

 

This is the foundation underneath Acceptance.

 

It is love rooted deep.

 

If we are this loved by the God of the Universe, we can be free to explore.  If His glorious forgiveness has sculpted us out of the rock that held us, we can grow fearless.

 

We can walk slowly through life with His words laid fresh against our cheek.

 

Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away” (S of S 8:7a)

 

If He accepts me then I can wear acceptance like a gown, walk the ordinary carpets of life with contentment.

 

Acceptance has always been my struggle. Have you seen it in my walk? I walk marching forward half present in the next moment. Striving. I forget to walk slow listening for His voice. How often do I still walk into a room of strangers as if I’m pulling open the heavy door of my sterile junior high?

 

I forget I have already unwrapped and received the gift.

 

Acceptance is the word halfway through the year I wanted to change to.  It’s the word I promised I’d choose for this next 365 days.

 

I want it tattooed, inked across my left hand so I can glance at it and the breath held tight can release.

 

It says: Be present here.

 

It whispers Ephesians 5:2: Walk in love as Christ loved you and gave Himself for you an offering and sacrifice to God.

 

Acceptance means being intentional and asking: where is this struggle coming from? Can I set it down, move through acceptance to thanksgiving?

 

Acceptance is a moving through into the wide open.

 

Acceptance is love rooted deep, arms receiving.  It’s that little flower in Hinds Feet on High Places looking up to the Giver, receiving the drops that come: Acceptance with Joy.

 

Acceptance is a saying Yes to the gifts He has given.

 

It is joining God by saying, “It is good” as we gaze at His created beings, ourselves included.

 

It is an opening of the heart to drink:

“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music-the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” (Henry Miller)

 

Acceptance is the surest way to forgetting myself.

 

Acceptance is a looking into the eyes of the unknown heart un-judgmentally and being present to their struggle, standing in awe of their being made in His image.

 

It swings open the door to love. Acceptance says: I love you as you are right now and we’ve got all the time in the world.

 

Acceptance puts room between me and the dreams gathered tight. I can enjoy them with the Lord like watching koi in a pond, seeing their scales shimmer as they come to the surface. I can allow them to grow and change without the panic to grasp them, squeezing bulging muscles tight.

 

Acceptance is getting quite comfortable with failure and imperfection and still walking forward. It’s pushing open the window to healthy vulnerability.

 

Acceptance looks like a cross, arms outstretched,

 

Open.

photo credit here

Do you have one word you are beginning to live?  If instead of a ladder of resolutions you chose one life-changing word, which would you choose?

joining the amazing storyteller, Laura Boggess here:

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Advent, Day 16: When We Do Too Much

The Advent lectionary and my little Advent series here collided randomly this Sunday in the most satisfying way. Yesterday’s scriptures, “He shall feed his flock” was featured for the Old Testament and then were repeated by Christ to John the Baptist in the gospel and as soon as I sat down in church, a lovely Mezzo-soprano and soprano sang the Messiah scriptures. I sat and bathed.

 

Later the children and I chatted about what we needed to be fed by our Shepherd. We pulled off tags  with words scrawled vertically on a paper in a prayer station, much like you would find at a Laundromat for a dog-sitting service. Simple and uncomplicated. We fingered them in our pockets for the rest of the evening, small kinesthetic prayers.  Xavier picked, “love.” Caedmon picked, “joy.” I chose peace. I desperately need peace from loud and crowding Christmas expectations.

 

I had already held the round see-through wafer in my hand, prayed for more “Jesus,” put the wafer on my tongue to dissolve. I’m always desperately in need of more Jesus.

 

The rest of the aria from the Soprano is what echoed in my mind later, “Come unto me all ye that labour.” It was one of the first arias I was handed in college. I listened but struggled not to breathe with her, mouth every word. Once you’ve sung anything for an audience your muscle memory takes over and the words are not just words, they are words connected to the diaphragm strength it takes to sing those words.

 

This was the phrase that stood out: “Take My yoke upon you and learn of me.”  As I heard the phrase repeated I wondered how many yokes I had taken on this Advent. And whose they were, because they were not His and they should not have been mine.

 

The image being used by Christ here is of an oxen and a double yoke, and the promise that yoked up with the Almighty God in the other half, our assigned work will not strain us out of God-rest.

 

When we do too much, we are slipping out of the yoke, trying to pull in our own strength. We strain hard and soon drop exhausted.

 

I wondered how many other yokes I have picked up, determined that I need to look over each one, ask them whose they are and if it’s time to lay them down. Holley Gerth in this girlfriend-chat of a book, You’re Already Amazing,  (which I love) says there are both talents that we are given and some we are not endowed. On Purpose. God doesn’t want us to try to take over everyone else’s gift. He just wants us to walk forward in ours, with His Almighty empowering fastened securely.

 

This Christmas season I’m giving up perfect.  I’m giving up the fear that my kids won’t have a magical Christmas. I’m giving up the fear that my dear sister-in-law won’t like her gift.

 

I’m giving up the hype. I’m so done with the hype. I just want more Jesus…for all of us.

 

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Perhaps an Advent journal entry or just a simple list in your prayer time:

What yokes have you taken on that may not be yours? Where is the most strain, the least God awareness in your life?

What expectations of the holidays are building up your anxiety?

Perhaps these jobs or expectations need to be reattached to the strength of God,  (I can’t do this in my strength any longer) perhaps they need to be slipped off your neck, given to the antique shop to hang on their crowded wall…

 

We’re on our way, dear friends, there are just a few more turns in the path to the manger.  Come with? Put your email in the CONNECT box and pilgrimage with us. We’re also partnering and working up some lovely treasures for you in the New Year. You don’t want to miss a thing.

linking today with Jen Ferguson with the Soli Deo Gloria sisterhood where she is sharing about a free 30 day book encouraging us to stand with slaves around the world: January is Human Trafficking Awareness month.  Yes. Let’s do this.

 

 

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Advent, Day 15: Learning to Eat Out of the Shepherd’s Hand

They were too much, for whatever reason.

 

They were the lambs the ewe kicked away from her warmth, milk, care.

 

These are the bummer lambs in the shepherding tradition, shunned from mom’s circle of care, orphaned.  She pushes them away, assigns them to a slow death.

 

But to the shepherd, this lamb has inherent value. He reached his arm inside the mother’s birth canal, pulled it gently into the warmth, carefully washed off the afterbirth to make sure her lungs would be clear.

 

His eyes see these castaways completely differently. These are the ones He adopts.

 

 

These are the ones he takes on his lap to feed.  On that very first day, he sits on the ground in the dim of the barn, feeds it every two hours from a makeshift nipple, even grasping its jaw, teaching it how to suckle. These are the ones to whom he offers fresh hay…daily offering, offering, offering until they finally begin to eat it themselves around four weeks. These are the ones He carries close to His chest to regulate their temperature with His own body heat. And these are the ones He takes home at night.

 

For over a year.

 

“He shall feed His flocks like a shepherd. He shall gather the lambs with His arm and carry them in His bosom. And shall gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11

 

 

The redemption? These are the ones who know the shepherd best, his smell, his actions, the exact tone of his voice.  And these are the ones whose ears are always perked for his call, who run toward his voice first. They obey quickly. They know that voice through that year of being held, of taking a nipple from his hand. They know that’s where the care comes from.  They are not afraid or reluctant to follow. And they are the most playful with him. Through all that care, that sheep has imbibed the goodness of the shepherd.

 

This is what Isaiah was teaching us about the Messiah to come. This Messiah would see inherent value in every human being. He would wish to take each and every one home to be adopted by the Father.

 

And this is where it gets interesting for us. Maybe we may have said a sinner’s prayer, been invited into the fold but we are the independent, pick ourselves up from the bootstraps kind of people. We have our spiritual formulas and our own wisdom and we think we’ve got this thing all worked out. We think we can stand up on these shaky legs, find our own Source, drink life there.  But we are missing out on being fed His expert formula, coming close enough to hear His voice.  And when we push away the loving care of the Shepherd, think we can perfect our way through, we push away Life.

 

We are invited to come in close.

 

This time of moving has been like that.  My sources have been taken away and I’m listening longer, harder, crawling into His arms more often to drink.  I’m re-attaching to the Shepherd.

 

He didn’t adopt us to send us out there on our own. The Shepherd never does that. He’s going with us all the way. Yes, He’s coming. In fact, He’s the One leading.

Sheila Walsh talks about the bummer lambs here.

Hi friends, we are walking our way to the manger, together.  Using Handel’s Messiah as a lectionary and background music. Come along?  Slip your email in the CONNECT button on the front page and pilgrimage with us.

 

 

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Advent, Day 11: What Happens When the Holy Makes a Visit

“Fear not,” He says, but it is too late. I am already face down, fingers grasping stones, fingernails scraping dust.

 

I grasp at the familiar.

 

The glory burns and my knees come in tight. I fold up small hoping to hide.  I am unable to stand in the weight of all this glory.

 

For years I have lived in the shadows.

 

We are the late night, the 3rd shift sheep guards. The pinpricks of stars have became our companions. I walk around in the day with hands shading my eyes.

 

I cover my face, would do anything to put a veil over the light, contain it. I am not a holy chaser. I’d rather the mystery stay sanctioned off where it belongs.

 

I like things that fit in my hand, things I can move from here to there. Pick up.

 

Yet this light consumes more than darkness, it peels back layers of this pollution sunk deep in my skin. My sin sears. Have mercy, Lord, have mercy. Confession streams out violently.  Oh God. Oh God.

 

I purge.

 

I long to be free.

 

I long to belong to this Light, to lose myself in the Song.

 

This much holiness could kill anyone

 

…or kindle our hearts into a full fire praise.

 

 

The Voice of a thousand notes streams back and forth from nearby hills, “Do not fear. Listen! My good news will saturate the world in joy. Your Savior the Long-awaited  Messiah, the Lord, has just been born in the City of David.  This is the sign you are to look for:  a swaddled baby laying in a manger.”

 

The Voice burst into a million flaming Beings twisting and turning. Prismatic spotlights pulse across the black sky.   Their voices join and explode into a million waterfalls splashing praise back toward their King.

 

“Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to those who enjoy His favor.”

 

The song ends, the glory fades out so slowly the stones seem to glow, seem to have caught and held the light. We look up, search each others’ faces for recognition then slowly stretch out of our curled up selves.   We breathe deep, nod, grin crazy.

 

I am the first to run. We hurl ourselves downhill toward Bethlehem frantic, search stables, caves, barns until we find it: the light of a small lamp.

 

It sends a pool of glory around Him

 

and I sink down again,

 

grasp tight the hay.

 

You, my friend, what do you do with the holy?  Does the terror make you want to sanction it off…only keep the god of comfort close?  What sins/behaviors stand between you and being a part of the light? Are you ready to purge to come close?

 

We are on a journey to the manger together. Come with us? Don’t miss a day of the pilgrimage. Slip your email into the CONNECT box on the front page and receive the next stepping stone to the stable tomorrow morning.
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linking with the fabulous storyteller Jennifer Dukes Lee here:

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Advent: Days 7-8, Love-Fueled Courage

We need you fully present, fully awake.

 

We need light-bearers, God-bearers, Kingdom-bringers, hope-servers.

 

We are hungry for your glad tidings shouted from mountaintops, whispered into smartphones, wrapped around the shoulders of the widow sitting hands-folded in the pew. We need the Kingdom come and it is you, my friend, who will help bring it in.

 

Back in ancient days, the glad tidings proclaimer was a job, the one responsible for climbing mountains to bring the news.  Think ancient news anchor. Job description: trek up the switchbacks, catch your breath and loudly bellow the message.  The words, “The King is coming!” would project from up in the hills so sound waves could reverberate to women with baskets hustling around the market.

Isaiah 40:9 “0 thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain;O Jerusalem, that tellest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, “behold your God.”

Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee”

 

It is fear, (oh ya, and narcissism, but sometimes aren’t they one in the same?) that keeps us planted down in our own square footage.

 

So here’s the secret to fearless proclaiming:

 

The greater the love, the less stage fright we have.  Fall in love with the Image-bearing, beautifully broken and we can’t help but weep over Jerusalem, walk straight into our callings.

 

Because we don’t want your love-less art (a quote from Emily Freeman’s inspiring book here), your narcissistic preaching, your light-less spouting, your love-less mothering, (friending, teaching, doctoring, self-promotion, etc.)

 

We need you fully engaged. We want your story metamorphosed by His story and projected by love.

 

But that kind of love…it can’t be bought, faked, counterfeit.

 

It has to be given and grown.

 

In seminary I found the longer I steeped in a story, the more it would come out as tight little bits of poetry.  Spend an internship researching the world of the Celts along with Hilda of Whitby from the 600’s? For a month I would dream and create and scratch down Hilda poems before sleep.

 

What we marinate in eventually comes out.  For better, for worse, it becomes the story we write, the art we make, the tidings, glad and otherwise, we project.

 

We have a dear friend who used to be an editor at Zondervan who would regale us with stories of the authors he supported. His unabashed favorite? Richard Foster. Why? Richard’s integrity.

 

Richard Foster, our friend told us, would spend seven years writing a book. He refused to put words on paper that didn’t come out of his soul, that were not written by his life.  Richard refused to get caught up in the publishing world’s demand for more titles. He would pray through his subject, live that subject and then, love the reader of that subject.

 

How do we project God’s coming into the world without fear?

 

Eugene Peterson transcribes Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine for your light has come” in this way, “Get out of bed Jerusalem! Wake up. Put your face in the sunlight. God’s bright glory has risen for you. The whole earth is wrapped in darkness, but God rises on you, his sunrise glory breaks over you.”

 

We, my friends, are solar powered.  Our light gets brighter when we dwell in strong light.

 

One Sabbath I was searching for direction and sat down for an hour in front of the altar. It’s a thin place, a kairos place, a place where God’s voice feels louder. This was one of those rare moments where His love broke over me and I sat for a long time just enjoying Him. But I’m no saint and soon hunger chased me out and I slid into a booth at Red Lobster. I know, a little extravagant and entirely institutional but I’m addicted to their coconut shrimp with pina colada sauce.  I found myself getting effusive all over the unsuspecting waitress.  “Do you know you have a beautiful smile?” I asked her. The mechanical eyes now turned soft and the smile brighter. I wrote “thank you” on my receipt and “I just want you to know God takes great delight in you” in the margin. And yes, I know, maybe we should have established more of a depth in our friendship before I went all glad tidings over her, but honestly, love was just seeping out.

 

This was me holding back.

 

When we soak in love, lap it up, we project love fearlessly.

 

We need you, dear one, to fearlessly Go Tell it on the Mountains.

 

We want your unique God-soaked story projected and inviting us to strain our eyes for the Coming One, to“Behold our God.”

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An Advent Get-Practical Spiritual Exercise:

Soaking in God’s Love–

1. The 3 R’s: Rest (take deep breaths), Receive (Receive His love), Respond (Love Him back, worship)

2. God on a hunt for Scripture about God’s love for you. Meditate, chew on them and then take them to bed.

3. Turn up the worship music, close your eyes and enjoy Him.

4. Use one phrase from Scripture and take deep breaths with it: “I am loved with an everlasting love.” Set a timer for ten or twenty minutes. Neuroscientists tell us that what we repeat, transforms and heals our brain.

 

We are on a journey to the manger, one Scripture, one stepping stone from Handel’s Messiah at a time. Join us?  Don’t miss a day.  Slip your email in the Connect box on the front page of this website. Let’s be pilgrims together.

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Linking with Laura Boggess who today shares about the unexpected wonder of winter-time worship,

Michelle DeRusha who talks about obedience and having a Joseph-sized faith

and Jen who is teaching us to pray for our sisters through the holiday push.

 

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