Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.

A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote.  I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus.  I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight.  Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should.  I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever.  I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible?  Mmmmkay.  But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow.  Read heading-to-heading.  Stop.  Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me.  Let the words sink in.  Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year.  And that is OK.  I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.”  Yes.  God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day.  It may be an entire chapter.  But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul.  Sometimes I write in the margins.  Sometimes I get really creative.  But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone.  That is relationship.  That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me.  First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible.  I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture.  I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done.  So, out of reverence, I just don’t.  My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online.  I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.”  What I create is between me and Jesus.  That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk.  I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me.  This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.”  I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace.  It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Grasping my Father’s Hand.

Driving into town this morning I was still foggy from a late night of fretting over an issue that continually rears its ugly head in my life.

I’m sure you have none of those, right?

It’s a thirty minute drive, which is usually the perfect length for a podcast.  I had started listening to Sally Clarkson’s latest as I was getting dressed so I finished it about halfway into town. As is so typical of God, it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. (Go to sallyclarkson.com/blog.  It’s episode #172.  You are welcome.)  Still, though, the fog persisted in my mind.  Thoughts swirled about and I fought to choose joy.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  .

Have you ever been in that place?  Knowing what you should do yet not finding the gumption to get up (physically, mentally, or spiritually) and do it?

I still had about fifteen minutes of driving to go so I switched from my podcast app to the radio.  On one of the local Christian stations a song was just beginning and my first impulse was to move on to the next channel.  I wasn’t in the mood for worship.

I bet you can guess what came next.

It was like a Holy Hand held mine to the steering wheel.  Nope.  Stay right here.  Listen.  Worship Me.

Suddenly the air in my car was filled with words that refused to be ignored, even in my cynical state…

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken


Gracefully Broken by
Matt Redman, Tasha Cobbs Leonard

I forced my thoughts to slow, to focus on these lyrics that I have heard and sung many times.  Words I believe…or do I?

Am I living what I sing?  Am I gracefully broken?  To be honest, the lyrics to my life could read more like this…

Here I am, God, arms pried open.  Pouring out my life, forcefully broken.

Ouch.

As much as I want to believe I am a mature believer, the truth is I am often like a toddler, throwing a kicking, screaming fit on the kitchen floor.  For a season I am fine, walking and trusting and holding God’s hand along the way until I come across an obstacle that stubbornly refuses to budge.  “This is not what I thought,” I complain.  “This isn’t what you promised.”  I wriggle my hand free of His and try to push the obstacle out of the way.  I fight and complain and plop down in a huff, sweat beading on my brow and fingers bleeding.

All the while my Father has worked quietly around me, clearing a path, whacking away thorns and brush to allow me to pass safely around the obstacle.  As I have whined and cried He has stayed faithfully steadfast, knowing at some point I will exhaust myself and take His hand once again.

But you know what He never does?  He never forces me.  He doesn’t pry my arms apart. That’s not worship and it is certainly not relationship.  He waits.  He clears the path and stands there with his hand extended.

Are you done?  His gentle words hold a fatherly reprimand.  Are you going to stop the fit now and come with me?  Come on, let’s go.

I reach up from my position on the cold floor and grasp the warmth of His hand.  His strength pulls me to my feet, to His side, and He leads me around the obstacle.

To the other side.

And I am reminded, once again, that though the obstacle may not move, God does.

Sometimes God moves mountains.  Sometimes He moves me.

Mama Bear

The only way joy will become a part of this story is if there is justice.

UPDATE:  The search team has found the remains of children in the area.  Here is a link to the post.  Please continue to pray and speak out.  Human trafficking is a VERY real and present epidemic in our country.  The victims are often children as young as two years old.  The body of Christ must be willing to be the hands and feet of Jesus and help however He may ask of us.

THIS IS NOT A TYPICAL #ALIFEOFSIMPLEJOYS POST.

I don’t know about you, but news articles about children being hurt or abused punch me in the gut.  I cannot bear the thought of an innocent child suffering.

But suffering, too often, occurs.  And even worse is when it is at the hands of an adult who should be protecting them.

This post will be short.  This post has no joy attached to it because what I have seen is dark.  The only way joy will become a part of this story is if there is justice.

Please, friends, go to #operationbackyardbrawl and brace yourselves for what you will see.  The videos (and language) are graphic.  Share all over social media.  Force the powers-that-be to pay attention and fight for these little ones.  The voices of those trying to help are being squelched, videos that expose the atrocities are being removed.  And, to be honest, most of us are more likely to like and share a picture of our friend’s new baby or latest new recipe than posts like this.  Our society is numb.  We just don’t want to think about it, much less confront it.  But you and I both know the power of an army of mamas who refuse to back down from a fight for the lives of their children.  We must fight…on our knees.

Do you believe prayer works?  Do you believe God listens and answers the cries of his people?  I’ll admit, there are many times it has felt like my prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.  And Satan would love to keep it that way.  He wants to render us ineffective, distracted, and focused inward.

The enemy is real.  The level of evil that is permeating the dark places in society is beyond anything I could ever imagine.  Watch the videos.  Listen to the horrific descriptions of what these little ones have been forced to endure.

We must pray for these children.  There may not be much we can do for them physically at this point but we can wage war in the name of Jesus in the spiritual realm.  Let the mama bears rise up and refuse to be silenced!  The children…our children…deserve nothing less.

It will take the power of God to stop this.  And stop it, He will.  One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.  Until then, God has set us, His daughters, here at the watchtower.

Click here.

Then search #operationbackyardbrawl.

SHARE.

PRAY like you have never prayed before.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

A Breath Away

We make things so much more difficult than they need to be.  Like the Pharisees who simply could not trust that God’s grace is sufficient, we pile on rules and standards that we were never meant to shoulder.

We turn relationship into rules, which causes us to be afraid.

Afraid we aren’t good enough.

Afraid He can’t love us in this moment because…(Insert issue here.  I have all kinds of issues.)

Yet His grace is so much more than we can imagine.  He just wants us to stop and realize who we are!  Some of us may be poets, able to compose a beautifully worded prayer that blesses the hearts of those within earshot.  But, sometimes, we are just desperate.  We need God and we need Him now.  We don’t have time to figure out how to word our prayers, we just need to fall on our face before God and, for lack of a better phrase, let it all hang out.

There is a type of prayer that I was taught years ago that I absolutely love.  It is “breath prayer.”  Doesn’t that sound beautiful!  It is the natural outflow of a heart desperate to feel the presence of God.  It can be one word or a few, but it is blessedly simple and wonderfully accessible to even the most newborn of Christians.

It can be the word, “Help.”  Maybe we cry out, “Be near me.”  Or perhaps we sigh, “Please, Lord.  Please.”

The beauty of the breath prayer is the rest it gives our spirit, the knowing that God not only hears, but fills in the gaps when we simply do not have more words.  We breathe out and then stop, waiting, resting, trusting.  We know that the Lord sees the longing of our hearts and does not need eloquent words to draw His attention.  We always have His attention.

Try it.  Breathe in, then breathe out.  Let your words be few and open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s work.  Keep prayer simple when life is complicated and let the Lord give you rest.