“C.S. Lewis (on reading another author):
“He brought me violently face to face with…”
from Yours, Jack by C.S. Lewis
I LOVE it when that happens! It’s why I read dead guys and footnotes when I don’t have to. I love it when a writer makes me think. I love it when my beliefs are challenged, when my complacency is given a swift kick in the pants, when my arrogant assumptions are blindsided by something I never considered before.
Why do I love it when a writer brings me “violently face to face” with a new perspective I hadn’t considered or a truth I hadn’t realized?
Long story short? Complicated and detailed reasoning summarized? I have an extreme aversion to uninformed myopic opinions being spouted as declarations of objective truth.
I like to learn. To think. And I learn a LOT from books. I like to plow into what other people have written. Reading and learning fuel me and fuel the conversations I have, the words I write and the decisions I make.
You don’t have to be a reader to be informed. In the age of Google and Wikipedia, you can find out whether what you believe is hooey in a matter of seconds.
I’m allergic to hooey. The last thing I want to do is spread it around.
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“…how did the early Christians pray for joy? First, we may assume that they prayed the prayers of the only Bible that they had, namely, the Old Testament. Thus they would have prayed:
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8).
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (Ps. 90:15).
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:6).
Don’t miss how radical these prayers are. They assume that we are unable to make ourselves satisfied in God. And they assume that God has the right to do it, is able to do it, and does it in answer to prayer.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
“Breathe in me Your life. ‘Til Your love overtakes me
Open up my eyes. Let me see You more clearly
Falling on my knees, ’til I love like You love
Like You love me”
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series "the search for Joy."]
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?””
Luke 24:27, 30-32 (NIV)
Lord, please open my eyes. Please open the Scriptures to me. Please teach me how to encounter Christ in every corner of the Bible. I can’t do it on my own. I desperately need your Holy Spirit to help me decipher what I read, but I also need teachers and books and other resources to point me to Christ in every measure of your Word. PLEASE Lord, don’t ever let me passively use or numbly accept others use of Your Word only as supporting material for moral living or motivation for charitable service – without an unmistakable declaration that apart from Jesus Christ, moral living and charitable service are empty, temporal pursuits. Please Lord, never let me settle for an assumption of Jesus. My desperate prayer is that I would never forget that JESUS is the single common thread that runs through every book of the Bible. Lord, never let me forget that without JESUS, the Bible is just a historical document. I want to see Jesus in Scripture where I’ve never recognized Him before. Jesus, please show me YOU. Please help me point others to You.
“ABOVE ALL, PREACH CHRIST…I got lost in the details of the text and didn’t have time for the most important part. In the mail came a letter from this lady saying, ‘I could have heard that message in a mosque.’ Ouch. Sometimes the best input doesn’t come in the easiest packages, but she was right. Nobody needs preaching that gives the testimony of God but doesn’t scope down to the Son of God and the gospel. That’s gotta be in our messages somewhere every week, that God loves fallen people, that they can be saved from their sins and find the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I never get tired of preaching it, God’s people will not wear of rejoicing in it.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“Chains be broken. Lives be healed. Eyes be opened. Christ is revealed.”
You’ll Come by Hillsong United
Then Moses said to Him “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)
Lord, I don’t want to go – or STAY – anywhere if you aren’t there. I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason we exist and gather. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.
“Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1500 people on the rise with plans for another service – regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it – what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God – you have everything you need, no matter what you lack.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“I don’t want to go somewhere, if I know that You’re not there. ‘Cause I know that me without You is a lie. And I don’t want to walk that road, be a million miles from home. ‘Cause my heart needs to be where You are. So I don’t want to go.”
I Don’t Want To Go by Avalon
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
another year, over. No do-overs. No take-backs. Only lessons to be learned and new choices to be made.
Lord, am I where you want me? Am I living the life you’ve given the me the way you know would be best?
I want to be a living sacrifice for You. But sometimes – much of the time – I know my choices are driven by my own idea of what that looks like.
What does it look like to You, God?
My fear is that my desires are selfish and much bigger than those you have for me.
Is it possible that the plans you have for me involve me sitting across the table from one person, listening, asking questions and sharing my faith one on one? That this book I’m writing is equipping me for those conversations, but will never actually be read? or even finished?
Is it possible that the plans you have for me mean that the primary reason I’m recording is for the witness that occurs during the recording sessions themselves and that these recordings will live forever on my computer in obscurity?
And those things are good. Very, very good.
But you know I want more. Is that from You?
The last thing I want to do is pursue a dream you haven’t given me. I’m desperate to saturate myself in your will and I want to have tunnel vision when it comes to following Your lead. Please don’t let me pursue anything that actually takes me away from You. Please show me what I could or should be doing to bring You glory.
I think of the story about You asking a man to push against a rock. Day after day, year after year, the man pushed, eventually becoming discouraged, saying, “God, I give up. I’ve pushed and pushed with all my strength and I haven’t moved this rock even one inch. What did I do wrong? Why did I fail?”
The story says that you replied by saying, “I didn’t ask you to move the rock. I only asked you to push against it. You say you’ve failed, but have you? Look how strong you’ve become. You’ve done exactly what I asked.
Now I will move the rock.”
I know you don’t need my help Lord. Please allow me to serve you anyway. Please use me anyway. Please guide me. Please equip me. Help me to be obedient. Please don’t ever let me give up.
Too often, we bide our time with the routine of a life that we hope
will one day take us across the chasm. Our days become stacked upon other days.
And as time moves forward, we think about the great abyss in our quieter moments.
We wonder if we should take the leap soon.
But the busyness of our days pulls us back from the edge and we perpetually postpone it.
Why? Because we are afraid we do not have the strength to make it.
Don’t let that happen. You’re stronger than you think.
Dr. Les Parrott
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
Lord, there’s something liberating about an unresolvable situation. It forces me to remember that on my own, I can do nothing. YOU can do anything. So, when I reach an impasse with another person, when I face the undeniable fact that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to resolve a situation, the only thing I’m left with is prayer. Thank you for helping me realize and accept that all my own human efforts will pale in comparison to what YOU can do. If you choose to. Talk and actions may result in temporary manipulation, but long-lasting, fundamental change will come when YOU speak and move. Thank you for reminding me that while Romans 8:28 promises you will work all things for good, sometimes, in my own life, that looks like failure. Thank you for helping me accept that sometimes, in my own life, giving grace means walking away, even if it means walking away from something I love. Please comfort me as I let go. Please encourage me as I seek your will to fill the void this loss will create.
“Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy; the second is to give us a message, and that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace; we are to offer unconditional grace. The mercy of Christ preceded our mistakes; our mercy must precede the mistakes of others.”
JUST LIKE JESUS by Max Lucado
“So who says he’ll forgive you? And says that he’ll miss you? And dream of your sweet memory? God does. But I don’t. God will. But I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.” (what? cut me a break, I’m still working on it…is this better?)
God Will by Lyle Lovett
“Well I find that I’m just not agile enough, to balance the weight of all of this stuff. It’s a cumbersome task that demands too much and it’s gettin’ me nowhere fast…As far as the east is from the west, these are the things that I must forget. I’ll lay down my anger before the sun sets, I will forgive. I will forget. I will remember not, I will forgive. These things that tear my heart, I will forget. I will forget.
Remember Not by Susan Ashton (click HERE to listen)
(a short excerpt from the book I’m writing – and WILL eventually finish)
Why is it that when faced with a problem, my first inclination is to do something? To take action? Why is it that my knee jerk reaction is to throw myself into problem solving mode? Then, when I’ve expended every effort, when I’ve explored every possible option, only then do I pray? Why is it so counter-intuitive to pray first? Why is it that I, more often than I’d like to admit, see prayer as a last resort in a time of crisis instead of a first line of defense?
This is not something I’m proud of, nor is it something I can rationalize or dismiss. What I want to do when faced with a challenge or crisis, is immediately, intuitively go to God for help, but instead, time and time again, I find myself at the end of my own abilities, begging God for direction and ideas – and supernatural intervention.
Prayer is seriously underrated. We tend to keep it in a nice, neat little box, taking it out only when we need it. In the words of Robin Williams as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin:
“Phenomenal cosmic power! itty bitty living space.”
I’ve found that when I’m actively committed to consistently spending time with God, the tendency to handle things on my own is automatically diminished. When I’ve already spent time with God on a given day, reaching out to Him as a first response when something happens later in the day is much more intuitive. I’m also less easily discouraged because when I talk to God first, my approach to a problem is much clearer and calmer. I’m not saying that every time I bring a problem to God I come away with a crystal clear approach to successful and immediate problem solving.
But in the great debate of whether prayer changes God’s mind or our hearts, chalk this one up to a changed heart.
(Some of you know I’m writing a book. Most recently I’ve been focused on accountability. Don’t know how much will make it through final edits, but today, this is what came out of my memory and my fingertips. Note: (1) This was many YEARS ago. (2) I do NOT really talk to myself like this. That would be crazy.)
I have a collection of coffee mugs that completely fills the kitchen cabinet I’ve designated as the “coffee mug cabinet.” So far, when I get a new mug, I’ve been successful in getting rid of an old one so the coffee mug cabinet stays full, but doesn’t overflow into another one.
I also have a collection of CHRISTMAS coffee mugs that completely fills the same cabinet.
When I first started collecting coffee mugs, I didn’t pay attention to how much space they took up. I saw a coffee mug I liked and I bought it. Eventually I got to the point where all the mugs didn’t fit into the space, so I started packing up the Christmas mugs and storing them in the attic, only taking them down during the month of December.
In December, my cabinet overflowed.
Then a few years ago, I had a long overdue epiphany. When I UNpacked the Christmas mugs, I PACKED the everyday mugs in the same box and instead of putting an empty mug box back into the attic for the month of December, I put a full mug box into the attic.
There’s a lesson here. Just in time for the chaos of the Christmas season.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it until I’m dead:
You CAN have it all, you just can’t have it all AT THE SAME TIME.
Choose on PURPOSE.
Everyone knows someone who’s schedule is overloaded. Someone who has said “yes” to too many things. Someone who tries to do so many things, they do none of them well. Someone who is a job hog. You may even BE one of those people.
I used to be one of those people, until I had a long, honest, humbling talk with myself:
FedUpMe: “What is your problem? WHY do you keep doing this?
FedUpMe: “WHY do you keep saying yes to everything?”
MartyrMe: “Well, they asked me. They NEED me.”
FedUpMe: “They need you. They need you? Are you sure you don’t need them to need you?”
MartyrMe: “Of course not! I’m doing all this out of the goodness of my heart. Because I’m a good person and I want to help.”
FedUpMe: “and you get nothing out of it.”
MartyrMe: “NO! Most of the time people don’t even appreciate all I do for them.”
FedUpMe: “Of course they don’t. Nobody appreciates a half-%&# job.”
MartyrMe: “I do NOT do a half-%&# job!!! I work my butt off! Look at my schedule! I don’t have ANY time for myself! EVERYthing I do is for other people. I don’t even have time to work out! I run on coffee!”
FedUpMe: “This is me you’re talking to.”
FedUpMe: “Save it. You’re not selling that load here. Look at everything you do. You don’t get anything out of it personally? How many of these things you’ve committed to come with lots of people telling you how great you are? How many times do you tell people about all the stuff you do so they’ll tell you how great you are? (mocking voice) ‘Oh, I just don’t know how you do it all!’”
MartyrMe: “I can’t just quit. There’s nobody else to do it.”
FedUpMe: “Are you really that arrogant?”
MartyrMe: “If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.”
FedUpMe: “Are you sure about that? Are you SURE that you’re not hogging a job someone else wants? A job someone is just WAITING for you to give up so they can have a shot at it? A job you really aren’t suited for? Are you afraid someone else might do it better? Because I’ll tell you now, they probably could. Because you do a half-%&# job.”
MartyrMe: “shut up. I do NOT do a half-%&# job. I’m doing my best.”
FedUpMe: “You did not just say that. (pregnant pause) What is your favorite Churchill quote?”
FedUpMe: “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
silence. brooding. arrogant brooding.
MartyrMe: “I never liked you.”
FedUpMe: “There are a lot of people who don’t like me. And yet I’m still breathing.”
MartyrMe: “You’ve got issues. and you’re bossy.”
FedUpMe: “duh. I’m YOU.”
MartyrMe: “I can’t just quit. I’m already committed.”
FedUpMe: “Yeh, well, you’re gonna be committed if you don’t find some balance in your life. Look. Start by figuring out two things:
First, what’s important to you? What are your goals in life?
Second, what are you good at? What talents has God blessed you with and which ones are you actively developing?
Be brutally honest with yourself, but more importantly, ask other people for feedback and give them permission to tell you the truth. Then you’ll know what to let go of, what to keep in your life and what you need to improve on. If you want to do something and you aren’t very good at it, then GET good at it. Learn. Practice. And don’t forget. There are seasons for things. Just because you want to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it NOW. You don’t have to do everything at the same time. You CAN’T do everything at the same time. Not well. Rotate your commitments.
Like Christmas coffee mugs.
Most of the time, when we say we have no choice, we are wrong.
It’s just that the choices may be really, really hard. Radical. Beyond what we can imagine.
Doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice, just that we don’t want to make it.
“Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few—all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.” She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.” He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.” Then the oil stopped.
2 Kings 4:3-6 (The Message)
When I was a little girl, I used to pray for an unextraordinary life.
I thought that blessings were limited and were balanced with tragedy – things I feared. There was this imaginary teeter-totter in my head. All the blessings were piled on one seat while challenges and troubles were precariously stacked on the other. One blessing too much would tip the balance and God would have to step in and even things up.
I figured, if nothing really great happened to me, then nothing really bad would happen to me. So I prayed for a balanced teeter-totter.
It was safe.
Kid theology at it’s finest.
I rarely asked for blessings in my life, because in my mind, a blessing would always come with some sort of down side. And the down side wouldn’t always be in my life. If I experienced a blessing, I was always looking for where God would even it up. Who would get the trial? Would it be me? One of my parents? My siblings? Friends?
And there were degrees of blessings and trials. If I got to go to Disney World, some kid out there didn’t – because they came down with strep throat. If my family won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweeptakes? Someone. might. die.
The blessings I already experienced weren’t often recognized. “Normal” life was taken for granted. I viewed blessings like prizes. Extraordinary.
Like I said. Kid theology at its finest.
It was a long time coming, but these days, I understand that God’s grace – and his blessings – are unlimited (and that teeter-totters are only good for broken tailbones or a chin full of stitches). When I’ve experienced trials in my life, sure God might have sent them, but it’s just as likely He allowed them. Either way, He’s promised that He will work it all for good. Even when, from my own perspective, it didn’t seem like it was for my good.
Looking back at my life, I can see blessings in what I once thought were just trials. Of course, I don’t see a blessing in every trial, but I still believe God worked it for good. Maybe someone else was blessed as a result of some trial God sent or allowed in my life. That doesn’t mean they got a blessing and God evened up the teeter-totter with me.
I’m acutely aware of the truth behind the idea that we are who we are because of everything we’ve been through. Today, I’m praying that God will use the challenges I’ve lived through – and learned through – to bless someone else. I’m praying that – the relentless and exasperating optimist I am – I can be a source of hope and encouragement to someone who might need it.
Today, I’m not afraid to ask God to bless me in an extraordinary way. I don’t need an abundance of jars so God’s blessing will continue to flow. I need one life, continuously open for Him to fill with blessings. Even if the blessings are sometimes disguised as trials.
“It is our faith that fails, not his promise. He gives above what we ask: were there more vessels, there is enough in God to fill them—enough for all, enough for each. Was not this pot of oil exhausted as long as there were any vessels to be filled from it?”
Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked. Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”
Every night, when my kids were infants, I would slip quietly into their room and lay my hand on their backs to make sure they were still breathing. Sometimes, when they were fussy and I was afraid my touch would wake them, I would silently position my finger in front of their nose to feel their breath.
Infants. Who am I kidding? I did it for years. I just needed the assurance that they were breathing before I could sleep.
Tell me I’m not the only parent who’s done this.
I realize that my actions had nothing to do with whether or not they took their next breath. I was just checking for my own peace of mind. Laying my hand on their back was not what prevented them from dying of SIDS or some other freakish undetected “one minute they’re breathing and another minute they’re not” disease.
The Lord, in His mercy and grace, allowed my children take each tiny breath. By His mercy and grace, he still allows them to take their next breath.
Why am I thinking about this now? My kids aren’t at risk for SIDS anymore. My daughter will be 11 years old this year. My son just turned 16.
16. Two weeks ago, my son got his driver’s license.
And there it is.
Am I ready for this change? Of course not. and YES. YES I AM!
The two weeks before he got his license were particularly challenging chauffeur weeks for me. My daughter had drama camp from 9am to noon every day and my son got a summer job with flexible hours. My husband’s travel and work schedule made me the “go-to” guy with the car keys. I was spending hours and hours each day in FavoriteSon’s car with only 20 to 30 minute breaks in between drop-offs and pick-ups. By Thursday of the 2nd week, I was DREADING the thought of sitting in a vehicle.
Thursday was also the day FavoriteSon got his driver’s license.
Friday morning, I got up and drove PinkGirl to drama camp. I arrived back home about 20 minutes before FavoriteSon had to leave for work.
Decision time. Do I ride shotgun with him, drive home, drive back to pick him up and ride shotgun while he drives home? Or do I let him make the single round trip all by himself?
If I was WITH him he would be safe. If he drove by himself, he might get into an accident.
I know. I KNOW.
What was I going to do? Make him drive to work with my left arm stretched across the driver’s seat to protect him? Because THAT’S effective. Ummm hmmm. A loving mother’s straight-arm. More effective than a seat belt.
Just like a hand on his back.
I let him go. Literally. I didn’t even watch him drive away. Yes, I was ready for the break from driving, but more importantly, I was saturated with the knowledge that my presence in the vehicle with him had nothing to do with his safety. Not anymore. Our instruction and advice over the last year helped to prepare him, as did the two driver education courses he took. He was equipped for the responsibility. The State of Florida confirmed it by giving him legal permission to drive. All. by. himself.
His father and I still have so much more to prepare him for. But this? This we’ve prepared him for. This he’s ready for. Now, just like when he was a baby, his life is in God’s powerful and loving hands.
As hard as it is for me to comprehend, God loves my son more than I do.
Making safety the priority tells our children that we think God is incapable
of doing what He said He would do for His children . . . But when we put our confidence in God’s power
rather than the safety nets we place around our children we find that even children can learn to rely on God’s overwhelming presence to protect them as well as to enable them to flourish in the world system.
“An intellectual is one who loves ideas, is dedicated to clarifying them, developing them, criticizing them, turning them over and over, seeing their implications, stacking them atop one another, arranging them, sitting silent while new ideas pop up and old ones seem to rearrange themselves, playing with them, punning with their terminology, laughing at them, watching them clash, picking up the pieces starting over, judging them, withholding judgment about them, changing them, bringing them into contact with their counterparts in other systems of thought . . . suiting them for service in workaday life. A Christian intellectual is all of the above to the glory of God.”
“…the true intellectual occasionally sees some things, makes true observations and has insights that few, if any before him have seen or had. If there is any danger in this, it is not in having a one-track mind, but in having a mind with so many tracks that it either arrives at many places at the same time or it never gets out of the station.” (emphasis added)
(from Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James W. Sire)
Intellectual? That sounds so much better than “I just over think everything,” which we both know I have a tendency to do, Lord. Sometimes my head is filled with so many thoughts and ideas, I can’t focus. Sometimes I weigh alternatives to the point of inaction. So frustrating.
Even so, thank you for my love of reading and learning and thinking. And thank you for my limitations, both real and self-perceived. They keep me grounded and authentic. It’s so easy for education and knowledge to displace my trust in – and dependence on – YOU, especially in times of confusion or when circumstances seem . . . irrational.
Thank you for every day that I wake up with more knowledge and understanding than I had the day before. At the same time, thank you for making it crystal clear to me that – compared to all that is possible to know and understand in this world – I know and understand about as much as can be contained within grain of sand.
Thank you for the intricate details in this world, from the greatest wonders to the tiniest. That you are evident in the awesome beauty of the Grand Canyon as well as in the first breath of a newborn infant is just a peek at your perfect plan and limitless power. Every creation is filled with opportunities for discovery, every problem is an opportunity for ingenuity,
Through your power and grace and mercy, please help me to learn from my mistakes. Please help me to make different and better decisions based on what I’ve learned. Please bless me with insights and ideas and imagination, even if they sometimes overwhelm me. I want all that I am and think and feel to lead me to choices that place me in the center of your will. For your glory.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
“With all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all the strength that I can find. Take my time here on this earth and let it glorify all that You are worth. For I am nothing, I am nothing without You “
from Nothing Without You (youtube link) by Bebo Norman (amazon link)
and if you have an extra 3:33 minutes…
This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.
(Christian brain image from wallpaper4god.com)
“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
How does it happen? How do I consistently dedicate daily time with God – for months – YEARS – and then just . . . stop?
I don’t understand it.
But I do. The Bible is full of stories about people forgetting God. Elijah experienced discouragement. So did David. Story after story. My faith is no stronger than theirs.
It seems like it was a “single moment” kinda stop. I think. I’m not sure. Maybe it was gradual. I need clues. My prayer journal is my historical record. When did it happen? Working backwards, I see near daily journal entries for April, and for March 31st. The last entry before that? March 23. I didn’t write in my prayer journal for 7 days. That represents a week without dedicated time with God.
The March 31st entry begins with:
“Lord, I miss my time with you. It’s so easy to get distracted and allow my time and thoughts to be pre-occupied by what I believe to be the “demands” of the day.”
Please draw me back to you. Remind me till I see.“
Then I read the words that reveal I was smack in the middle of a spiritual desert on March 31st:
“Please bless me with an overwhelming awareness of your presence in my life, not in an abstract, general way, but in an intimate, detailed way. Help me to be aware – to STAY aware of you. Please don’t let me find myself going through the motions, doing what comes “next” without considering whether it should be done at all.
Please reach into my heart, past all the barriers and bring me back into intimate fellowship with you . . . Lord I miss the joy and peace I experience when I’m in close fellowship with you. I miss the recognition of you working in my life . . . Please encourage me today, please jolt me into a place of desperate desire for time with you, for the saturation of your Spirit in my every moment.“
The next day, April 1st, I took my first step back. I’m still finding my way, so I’m not ready to explore that part of my journey quite yet. I’m looking for a trigger. Wondering what I need to address before I can get completely clear of this desert. How did I get here?
Realistic or not, I’m also trying to avoid the next desert trip. I’m compelled to try and figure out what to do differently next time. Because I’m not so arrogant as to claim there won’t be a next time. I’ve still got one foot buried in the sand as it is.
What was I praying about in the days before I took a nose dive into a spiritual abyss? Or, as evidenced by the gaps in my prayer journal, what was I NOT praying about?
I have no idea if I’m going to be able to track back to a trigger. I’ve got some journal reading to do. I’m starting with March 23rd and working my way backwards.
Prayer in distress dredges the soul. It is a good thing to keep a note
of the things you prayed about when you were in distress. We remain ignorant
of ourselves because we do not keep a spiritual autobiography.
Oswald Chambers: The Best from All His Books
“Sometimes we experience a terrible dryness in our spiritual lives. We feel no desire to pray, don’t experience God’s presence, get bored with worship services, and even think that everything we ever believed about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is little more than a childhood fairy tale.
Then it is important to realize that most of these feelings and thoughts are just feelings and thoughts, and that the Spirit of God dwells beyond our feelings and thoughts. It is a great grace to be able to experience God’s presence in our feelings and thoughts, but when we don’t, it does not mean that God is absent. It often means that God is calling us to a greater faithfulness. It is precisely in times of spiritual dryness that we must hold on to our spiritual discipline so that we can grow into new intimacy with God.” (emphasis added)
(from Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith and
The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life both by Henri Nouwen)
Lord, I’m going to keep listening for your voice even when I think I can’t hear you.
I’m going to keep looking for you even when I think I can’t find you.
I’m going to keep talking to you even when I think I’m not making sense.
I’m going to keep reading your word even when I think I don’t understand it.
I’m going to keep serving you even when I’m not sure I’m doing any good at all.
I’m going to keep singing to you, knowing you can hear both my words and my heart.
Lord, I know these thoughts and feelings are lies. I’m so thankful that my faith isn’t grounded in them because they are temporary. You are eternal. And you are here with me, whether I can sense your presence or not. Thank you for that knowledge, it’s my rock.
“He [Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.”
1 Kings 19:14-15(NAS)
Elijah: “wah, wah, wah, I just witnessed your unlimited power, but now I’m sad and I feel alone.”
God: “I am HERE. Why are you still here?”
Elijah: “wah, wah, wah, I just witnessed your unlimited power, but now I’m sad and I feel alone.”
God: “Go. You have work to do, and whining isn’t on your to-do list.”
1 Kings 19:10-15(NAS)
“This is my prayer in the desert, when all that’s within me feels dry. This is my prayer in my hunger and need, my God is the God who provides…I will rejoice, I will declare, God is my victory and He is here.”
from Desert Song by Hillsong
This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.
“…understanding ownership was half of my lesson. If God was the owner, I was the manager. I needed to adopt a steward’s mentality toward the assets He had entrusted – not given – to me.
A steward manages assets for the owner’s benefit. The steward carries no sense of entitlement to the assets he manages. It’s his job to find out what the owner wants done with his assets, then carry out his will.”
(from The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn)
Lord, scheduling tithe checks on bill pay is some serious fun! Thank you for the joy we feel in this obedience. THANK YOU for the provision of my husband’s bonus and THANK YOU for the opportunity to give even more than we normally do. The feeling that comes from giving back some of the money you’ve entrusted to us is like an adrenaline high! Thank you that we never regret it or begrudge it. Thank you for giving us an opportunity to serve you this way. We pray that we’ve interpreted your will correctly and sent your money where you wanted it to go. We pray that you will abundantly bless the efforts of those to whom you have sent it and we trust you to work all things for your good and your glory.
Our continuous prayer is that you help us to be good stewards of everything you entrust to us and to help us achieve our goal of becoming debt-free. Thank you for this answer to our prayer. Thank you for providing a means for more debt reduction. We profoundly understand what a blessing this job is and even more the blessing of this bonus. Thank you, Lord.
“Rich or poor God I want You more, than anything that glitters in this world. Be my all, all consuming fire.
You can have all my hands can hold, my heart, mind, strength and soul, Be my all, all consuming fire.
All we need, all we need, all we need is You.”
from All We Need (youtube link) by Charlie Hall (amazon link)
This was dual published on my Pragmatic Communion blog.
“Everything you and I do, we do either out of our need to avoid pain or our desire to gain pleasure…
Why don’t you do some of the things you know you should do? After all, what is procrastination? It’s when you know you should do something, but you still don’t do it. Why not? The answer is simple: at some level you believe that taking action in this moment would be more painful than just putting it off…
Why is it that people can experience pain yet fail to change? They haven’t experienced enough pain yet…hit a level of pain you weren’t willing to settle for anymore. We’ve all experienced those times in our lives when we’ve said, I’ve had it – never again – this must change now. This is the magical moment when pain becomes our friend. It drives us to take new action and produce new results.”
I hope that the negative consequences I just experienced will be motivating enough for me to never repeat the circumstances that led to them.
I skipped working out yesterday. According to my freakish self-commitment to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with – which I was
foolish smart enough to document on the internet – I had to make up what I skipped. Thank GOD I only skipped one day. I had to do double work today. If I had missed two days…
What happened yesterday that prevented me from working out?
I have no excuse. I just procrastinated and then I got distracted and then I rationalized that I would just make it up tomorrow.
I should not have listened to me. I really, really hope I remember how difficult it is to do TWO 2 minute forearm planks, TWO 1 minute supermans and FORTY Bosu push-ups.
I’m going out of town with PinkGirl to chaperon a field trip on Thursday and Friday. Excuse me while I have a little talk with myself:
“Julie. There is absolutely NO reason you can’t do your plank, superman and regular push-ups on Thursday and Friday. Do you feel your arms right now? Do you really want to go through this again on Saturday? Do NOT wimp out. You WILL regret it if you do. It’s LESS than FIVE minutes a day, for cryin out loud! Don’t be a whiny butt. Just suck it up and get it DONE.”
That said, here’s where I am with regard to my fitness goals for the month of March:
8 two minute forearm planks (caught up)
8 one minute supermans (caught up)
130 BOSU push-ups (doubled my daily goal after 3 days, need to catch up to 160)
17.7 miles walked. (To meet my average of 2.3 per day, I should be at 18.4. Got some catching up to do – and I should try to get a head start on making up Thursday and Friday because I can’t leave my post as chaperon to get my walking in. I’ll try to remember to wear a pedometer during the day as we do field trip stuff)
How are you doing with YOUR fitness goals? If you’re a beginner, I’m challenging you to exercise for only ONE minute per day this month. In April, I’ll tell you why I’m saying only ONE minute.
I’m blogging my daily fitness updates in my exercise log, and posting my daily progress on my Facebook page and my Twitter account, so follow along any way you like:
1. Subscribe to the blog via email or RSS (there are widgets in the sidebar to subscribe)
2. “Like” my Facebook page to see the updates in your news feed or
3. Follow me on Twitter!
I would LOVE it if you would join me in fitness accountability by commenting and letting me know your progress too!
I’ve been trying to write. I don’t mean blog, I mean write. Why is there such a significant difference? Blogging is easy.
Writing is paralyzing.
I’ve written and re-written a book outline no less than 10 times in the last two weeks and yesterday, with a rare day to myself, I took my husband’s advice and “just started writing already.”
I wrote 3367 words (6 and a half single spaced pages) and let me just say:
When I was finished, reading it over, all I could think was “Who would EVER want to read THIS?”
not good. I was back to paralyzed.
So today, while avoiding writing altogether, I found myself in Goodwill, with my head tipped to my right shoulder, perusing book titles.
(ya know how your mother used to say if you made a certain face it was gonna stick that way? Well I’m waiting for my head to stick that way, as much as I book shop.)
Then a book title jumped out at me: “If You Can Talk You Can Write“
People, I can talk.
I glanced at the back and the first bulleted description read:
“Conquer the Killer Ps – Perfectionism, Paralysis and Procrastination”
I put the book in my basket immediately.
I couldn’t wait to get home. I’m anxious for the cure, the quick fix this book is sure to provide. (What? My expectations are too high? Unrealistic?) The boys are at a track meet somewhere about an hour and a half away, PinkGirl is singing in the shower at the top of her lungs and I cop a squat (I have such a way with words, it’s hard to believe I’m having trouble writing) on the back porch with my new book and a cup of coffee. Will I identify with this author? Can he help me? Let’s see:
“For some reason, everyone thinks, ‘I should know how to write.’ No one thinks, ‘I should know how to play the piano.’ But when it comes to writing, ‘I should know how to do it.’
What if I told you a story about a man who buys a piano, sits down to play for the very first time and is shocked when he doesn’t sound like Arthur Rubinstein?
‘I don’t understand,’ he complains, ‘I’ve listened to lots of music, I should know how to play the piano.’
Ridiculous you say? Yet there you are: Banging away at the typewriter, you’re mortified when your work isn’t as good as Ernest Hemingway’s. Hell, it isn’t even as good as Ernest Goes to Camp.”
that was unexpected. I actually laughed out loud.
Not as good as Ernest Goes to Camp. yes, I do believe I can identify with this author.
I’m also having lunch with my friend – a professional writer – tomorrow so I can beg her to cure my paralysis for some insight and advice.