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And then God showed up.

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

photo credit: CarbonNYC via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to put up a blog post today.  Fact is, I’ve been feeling pretty ambivalent about keeping this blog going at all.  I vacillate between “It’s not worth the energy; no one reads it” and “It’s so important; this is what I’m passionate about.”  I am alternately discouraged that I don’t have the stats to rival my favorite bloggers and discouraged with myself for not producing whatever would earn me those stats.  “I am tired; I am weak; I am worn. Take my hand, precious Lord.”

So yeah, I wasn’t going to post today.  I was feeling whiny and small and overlooked.  I was feeling voiceless.  I was giving up.

But this morning I woke up at the crack of dawn.  Which I hate and never do because morning people are all terrible, chipper, and HAPPY in the morning.  I cannot relate.

But this morning I woke up anyway, before the sun was up, before my husband was up, and by 6am I had tossed and turned myself right out of bed, into my clothes, and across the street to the misty, deserted salt marsh.

The marine layer was so low I couldn’t even see the tips of the mountains to my left or the horizon between the cloud cover and the Pacific Ocean on my right.  Everything was quiet, except for that man talking loudly on his phone as I passed his window.  (Who makes calls at 6am? Morning people!)

I walked slowly, not quite contemplatively, through the sage along the gravel path and wound my way across the estuary. I stopped on the bridge and watched the ducks and leopard sharks swim in wide circles and figure 8s.  I breathed deeply. I looked up at the misty morning, still dark enough that my sensitive eyes could take everything in through their own lenses and not the dark ones I carry with me everywhere.  I continued on.

I turned on my iPod and played a guided Lectio Divina reading I downloaded from my new friend Christianne Squires’ Cup of Sunday Quiet. (I highly recommend it, by the way!) I walked slowly through the salt marsh, noticed my breathing, and listened to a gospel reading in Christianne’s measured voice.  I walked. I breathed. I listened.

And then God showed up.

I don’t know why I am always surprised when God does that.  But I am, every single time.  Maybe it’s because at the bottom of everything, at the very root of the deepest lies that cause the woundedness in my life, I don’t believe God is trustworthy.  Still.  Even after all the healing, all the truth, all the trust God and I have built up in our relationship over the years.  Even after the dark night of the soul and the wilderness experience and all the ways God has tried to mature my faith, even now I am still surprised when God shows up.

I expect it more often. I trust that despite my lack of faith it will happen.  But I’m still surprised.

Or maybe it’s more that God just enjoys surprising me.  Maybe it’s that God delights in delighting me.  Maybe it’s like God is playing hide-and-seek with the child in myself.

Me: God, where are you? I’m looking for you.

God: Here I am! You found me!

And you know what? I just couldn’t wait to get back home and put up this blog post.  Because really and truly, my lovely readers, know this: God delights in delighting you, too.  God enjoys surprising us.  God, with infinite wisdom and gentle grace, continues to show up for each of us, every time.  All we have to do is get quiet, get listening.

All we have to do is show up, too.

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Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Pregnancy (with Emily)

fivequestionsonPregnancy

with Emily Feig

Emily’s guest post below is a beautifully written narrative incorporating throughout her story the answers to the five questions on pregnancy (find them here).  Because it is a little longer, I included an excerpt here with a link to the remaining narrative. You won’t want to miss the end of the story!

Becoming a mom has been the most amazing, wonderful, challenging, painful, and sanctifying process, even more than becoming a wife. My husband is the most amazing man in the world, and the blessing of being married to him is more than I can find words for. I learned so much about God’s love through him and through being married to him. But it didn’t change or affect me the way becoming a mom did.
 
Before we even started trying to conceive, I spent a great deal of time praying about it. I turned my desires over to the Lord and asked Him to make my desires match His. I know for so many people it can be a long and painful path, trying for years with no success, and for others, they are trying not to conceive and find themselves pregnant but not ready. I knew I had to trust God’s timing and asked that He give us a baby at when it was His perfect timing, and to help me be content with His timing.
 
We had been trying for 4 months before we conceived. Interestingly, I had peace the first 3 months before testing and with every negative result, but the early morning hours on the day we found out we were pregnant, I was laying in bed, clinging to the daydream of a baby, knowing that my hopes may soon be dashed, but wanting those last few minutes of enjoying what might be. The test was slow to turn positive. Both my husband and I were pretty sure it was not, and my heart was much more disappointed than usual. We continued getting ready for the day, but right before the 5 minute mark, we looked again and saw the faintest positive. My husband was not convinced and suggested we try again the next morning. But I knew. The whole day my body buzzed with nervous energy, my hands shaking, my emotions pent up with no release. Since we were both at work, we had no time to talk or process it, and my husband still wanted to test again to be sure. After another positive test, we were eager to celebrate, and talk, and plan, and enjoy our baby, treasuring the secret until we were ready to share.
 
Everyone had an opinion about pregnancy to share with me. Some women went on and on about how much they had loved being pregnant, how beautiful they felt, how much they loved and missed feeling the little kicks, and how they enjoyed all the attention that being pregnant had brought them. Others recalled how horrible their pregnancies had been, how much it had distorted their bodies, how ready they were for it to be over.
 
For me, I fell somewhere in the middle. Read the rest of this entry

Do Not Be Afraid

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  – Luke 2:10-11 TNIV

More than any other emotion, fear is what keeps us apart from God.  We fear that we are not worthy.  We fear that we are not enough.  We fear that the letting go will hurt more than the holding on.

As we prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus on this Christmas Eve, consider once more the powerful words of Henri Nouwen, this time from Gracias!

God came to us because he wanted to join us on the road, to listen to our story, and to help us realize that we are not walking in circles but moving towards the house of peace and joy.  This is the greatest mystery of Christmas that continues to give us comfort and consolation: we are not alone on our journey.  The God of love who gave us life sent us his only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain.  Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost.  Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.

My prayer for us all this Christmas season is that we would allow God to walk with us in our deepest places, hold us in our pain and loneliness, guide us in our confusion, forgive us in our guilt, and wash away our shame.

Tomorrow, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us receive fully and respond with joy to the real and active presence of God in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

Forward Friday: Prayer for the Rhythm of God

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and time (and blog writing) got away from me. I’ve missed you lovely readers.

I don’t know about you, but I could use a few moments of stillness in the midst of all the busy-ness this weekend.

Take some time each morning this weekend to still yourself and enter into the rhythm of God.  Notice how the prayer exercise below affects your body and your mind. How does it change the way you interact with the rest of your day?

Extra credit: Try this exercise each morning for the next week.

The following prayer exercise is from Body Prayer: The Posture of Intimacy with God by Doub Pagitt and Kathryn Prill (emphasis mine):

…[T]here is a rhythm of God — a rhythm that encompasses life, both the life we can readily see and the unseen life of the spirit.  The rhythm of God beckons us, guides us, and dwells in us.  When we discover the rhythm of God, we find the heart of God, the dreams of God, the will of God.  As those who are created in the image of God, we are endowed with this rhythm.  We can find it, step into it, and live in it. This is the kingdom of God — to live in sync with the rhythm of God….

[Pray this prayer aloud.]

The Lord our G0d
Sets our feet in spacious places,
Delivers us from evil,
Has given us freedom with the opening of his hand.
Let us lean into the future before us,
Let us follow the Way.

Prayer Posture

Begin by standing with your feet together and your arms hanging at your sides.  With either your left or right foot, lunge forward far enough to feel the stretch in your thigh.  If you can, lower the thigh of the leg in front to create a ninety-degree angle in the bend of your knee.  Switch legs after a while if you need to.  Feel the rhythm of God in your muscles as they strain, in your legs as you switch positions, in your breathing, and in the breathing and sounds of those around you [if you choose to try this prayer exercise in a group setting].  As you let the rhythm created in the room around you expand in your mind, consider how the rhythm of God is all around us.

Next week we will do some theological and spiritual reflection on Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison. Until then, lovely readers, may the peace of God be on you all.

15 Benefits of Being a New Church Plant

  1. You don’t think you have everything figured out yet.
  2. You don’t feel the need to run everything like a well-oiled machine.
  3. You don’t have any parking spaces labeled “senior pastor only.”
  4. You are still small enough that you recognize a new face.
  5. You are tight enough that most of the participants feel like family.
  6. You can recognize your mistakes as mistakes.
  7. You can admit your mistakes and move on.
  8. You’re more willing to try new (or really old) things.
  9. You’re more likely to keep/enjoy/benefit from the new (or really old) things that you try.
  10. You have to ask for help more often.
  11. You get to help/volunteer/participate more often.
  12. You feel more ownership and buy-in because you are helping/volunteering/participating.
  13. You worry less about who you might offend or what unspoken rules you might break.
  14. You worry less about starting new programs.
  15. You worry more about identifying what God is already doing and how to enter into it.

 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forward Friday: The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality Check

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Read part 1 and part 2.

You wanna be like Mary, but in reality, you’re like Martha.  Believe me, lovely reader, I know how you feel.  I’ve been there, and I’m back there again.

So if you’re a Martha and wanna be like Mary, what do you DO about it?

Here’s a little exercise to try this weekend:

  1. Recognize your gifts, passions, and personality. Understand and accept who you are.  God made you that way for a reason.  God likes you like this!
  2. Recognize how you are feeling.  Are you worried and upset?  Are you critical and judgmental? Are you jealous of people who seem to have an easier time sitting at the feet of Jesus?
  3. Identify what is motivating you right now. Are you distracted by the preparations?  Are you busy with things that seem necessary but really are not needed?
  4. Take it to God.  Mary and Martha both went straight to Jesus.  They just had different catalysts for their encounters with God.  Maybe being stressed and overwhelmed by the tasks of your day can be used to turn your attention to the one thing that is truly needed.
  5. Allow God to redirect your focus.  Where should your time and attention be right now?  What is truly needed?

Maybe sitting at Jesus’ feet isn’t your natural state of being.  Maybe it takes work.  It was work for Brother Lawrence, St. Ignatius, and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, too.  That’s why they devoted so much time and effort toward cultivating their focus toward God.

If you’re task-oriented, make time with Jesus one of your “tasks” for the day. Maybe it’s your only task for one whole day, the only and best accomplishment.  If you like lists, put time with Jesus on there along with runs to the grocery store and calls to clients.

And if you’re not like this at all, if you’re naturally a Mary, well then…

YOU ROCK! We all wish we could be more like you.  Don’t let ANYONE take away what you have chosen.  God promised you could stay right where you are at the feet of Jesus, and God will defend you!  You just keep on sitting.

For the rest of us, put sitting on your list.  And then DO it.

And then come back and share your experience in the comment box below.

The Mary-Wannabe-Martha-Reality: Part 2

Read part 1 here.

So let’s say you’re like me.  You are an achiever. You are, as Tom Rath wrote, “utterly dependable.”  You are a DOer.

You are like Martha.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:38-42)

Notice how Martha responds to the situation.  She does not burst into the room and drag Mary away to help her with the preparations.  She does not grumble under her breath, building up resentment and anger, and passive-aggressively snub Mary for the next week.

Martha goes straight to Jesus.  She tells him exactly how she feels and asks for exactly what she thinks she needs.

Notice how Jesus responds to Martha.  He does not condemn her.  He does not criticize her work.  He does not tell her to stop doing all the good and productive tasks she is responsible for.  Here’s what he DOES say:

  1. You are worried.
  2. You are upset.
  3. Most of these things aren’t needed (not that they aren’t good or productive or worthy or useful, just that they aren’t NEEDED).  In other words, your energy and effort are misplaced.  In Luke’s words, you are distracted.
  4. Your criticism and judgment of Mary are misplaced.

Martha goes to Jesus with her frustration and anger, and Jesus gently redirects her focus.

This is what mentors and supervisors would call a “teachable moment.”  Instead of punishing Martha for her Achiever and Responsible nature, Jesus uses the situation to show Martha the truth about herself — how she is really feeling and what is really motivating her actions — and to help Martha recognize what really is needed and better, and ultimately, what will resolve her feelings and correct her motivations.

Here’s what I love about this passage: what Mary does naturally, Martha has to learn.

Now here’s what we learn from Jesus’ response.

You do not need to change who you are or how you operate.

If you are like me, if you are an exhausted, inexhaustible achiever who is too responsible to allow yourself to let go of and step back from the tasks you have taken upon yourself, then you can breathe a sigh of relief here.

*Whew!*

You will always be the achiever.  You will always be responsible.

What you need to learn, what we all need to learn here, is that we are easily distracted by the worries and frustrations around us.  We focus on the wrong things.  We get caught up in what we think is necessary when really only one thing is needed.

If you’re like me, you want to be like Mary.  You want to be a BEer.  You want to be satisfied with nothing else than sitting at the feet of Jesus.

You wanna-be-like-Mary, but that is just not naturally who you are.  In reality, you are more like Martha.

You don’t feel settled if you haven’t accomplished something for the day.  You don’t feel comfortable if you backed out of a commitment or let something fall through the cracks.

That’s okay.  God made you with that drive for accomplishment and that dependability.  God loves that about you!

So what do you do when you wanna be Mary but are really a Martha?

Find out tomorrow!

Joy to the World

One of my favorite classes in seminary was Storytelling.  One particular assignment we had for that class was to make up a story based on the painting handed to us.  The painting I was given was a picture of the Nativity scene.  Here’s the story I told as inspired by that scene.

My best friend Mary got married two and a half years ago, and about five weeks ago, she had a baby.  Her husband left me a voicemail message in the middle of the night, and when I woke up in the morning and listened to the message, he just yelled, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!”  Now, I was a little frustrated with her because she is supposed to be my best friend and didn’t even tell me she was pregnant.  We’ve fallen a little out of touch since I moved across the country, but I still expected to know about the milestones in her life.

I waited a few days to give them time to adjust to being new parents and then gave her a call back to get the whole scoop.  We’ve always told each other all the gory details about everything, so I asked her what it was like having a baby. “How did it happen?” I asked.  “Where were you when your water broke?  What hospital did you go to?  Tell me everything!”

I could hear the fatigue thick in her voice as she tried to answer my questions.  Finally, she said, “You know, I’m so tired right now I can’t think of anything to tell you.  I just remember this one moment.  I had been pushing and screaming and screaming and pushing, and when she came out, before they cleaned her off or cut the cord or anything, the doctors just propped her up on my chest.  In that moment, I could have done it again six times over.  I was just so overwhelmed with emotion for my little baby.”

By this time, I was going to be late for my next class, and I knew she needed to take a nap while the baby was sleeping. “Well, I’ll talk to you later,” I said. I was about to hang up when I remembered my the most important question.

“Oh by the way, what’s your baby’s name?” I asked.

And she said, “Joy.”

 The angel said to them, I bring you good news of great joy for all people.  Today a baby has been born to you, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2)

The Word became flesh and lived among us. (John 1)

As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent season, let’s not lose sight of the very real physicality of the Emmanuel–God with us.  This is the very basis of body theology.

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