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.

 

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.

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.

Excitement!

As you may know, I am a huge fan of Sally Clarkson.  I wrote all about her in this post. She has written several books that have changed the way I live and her podcast is on constant play when I am in my car.

For the past month I have had the pleasure of being on the launch team for the book, The Lifegiving Parent, written by Clay and Sally Clarkson.  (Which means it is for daddies, too!) It has been such a privilege to share and participate in this good work of spreading the word about a message that will change the fabric of countless families.

Well, today is launch day!

Today the book will be in the hands of those of us who pre-ordered!

And today, I’d like to bless you with a giveaway!  🙂

If you will share the link to this post and leave a comment in the comments section of this page telling me so, you will be entered into a drawing for your very own copy of this wonderful new book.  The winner will be announced next Tuesday, so get to sharing!  I’m so excited to get this into your hands, too!  You will love it.

Have a wonderful week!  I’ll be out back on the porch with my nose in the book!

To order click here:  The Lifegiving Parent

 

A Good Word: She Speaks Stories Podcast

I don’t know about you, but I get tired of the droning of a television or radio.  Commercials, not-really-that-funny commentary to fill airtime or fulfill sponsor requirements, and never knowing what might pop up in an ad when little eyes and ears are nearby have kept my TV (and radio) mostly off, except for Fixer-Upper marathons, of course!

Enter the podcast.  I have subscribed to several, listening to them in the car, when cleaning, or at my computer.  I heart a good podcast.  It is such an easy way to fill my mind with truth and biblical encouragement and, sometimes, to get a much-needed good, clean laugh!  Which is why I am here, today, to share one of my favorites with you.

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Several years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Wanderer, a fellow adoptive mama who happens to be raising up three of my favorite Ethiopian sweethearts ever and still manages to minister to countless children and families at her church.  She is a powerhouse of a woman, sold-out for Jesus and has the best laugh EVER.  Last year, she and her friend, Katie, began the She Speaks Stories podcast and it has blessed the living daylights out of me.  Each week is full of stories from women in the trenches, of God’s faithfulness and ability to use our struggles, even our worst nightmares, to make us like Jesus and shine His light into this desperate, dark world.  Susan and Katie interview a different woman each week, crying and laughing along with them (Did I mention Susan’s laugh?  I mean, y’all, I cannot have a bad day when she gets started!  From the gut, slap-your-thighs and grab-your-sides laughter that will lift even the most bah-humbug of spirits!).  And amidst the laughter and tears Jesus is made known.  Beautifully.

What more can I say? Go to iTunes and search “She Speaks Stories.”  It will pop right up, then hit SUBSCRIBE.  You will be so glad you did.  And just click here for the link for you non-itunes people:)

If you happen to read this, I just want to say thank you, Susan and Katie, for taking the time to share your heart and wisdom each week.  God is using you to breathe fresh air into our lives!  (And one of these day’s I’m going to make it to a She Speaks Stories conference! )

Standing Guard

I wish I could have gotten a photo without scaring them off.

The cardinal pair:  Her, pecking quietly at the seeds spilling from the bright yellow feeder.  Him, standing guard from a slender branch just across the narrow strip of grass usually dominated by our German Shepherd.  The wind blew and the branch shivered, but he stood at his post, eyes fixed on his mate.

Something about it captured my attention.

They only stayed for a few moments.  I wanted to grab my camera but knew they would be gone by the time I got back to the window and if I dared to go outside they would surely fly away.  So I stood quietly, framed by morning light and mesmerized by the simple beauty of a male guarding his mate.

She was so calm and content, not even glancing up at him.  She was just doing what every living creature does every day…eating.  Such a simple, normal thing.

Kind of like doing laundry.  All the laundry that piles up in the hamper on a regular basis.  The normal mundane of my day.

Or having coffee alone in the dining room before the kids awaken, sunlight streaming in the tall windows and silence filling the air until the clomp-clomp of bare feet interrupt the quiet and the morning busy begins.

He is there.  Every moment of every day.  Whether I notice him or not, God watches me…and you.  Whether I am mopping floors or sipping tea…or struggling to settle my mind after a stressful day…He stands near, watching.  Comforting in His calm, bringing peace to the very air I breathe if I will just stop and take it in.  My Father, our Father, is a constant presence.

How does this realization affect us?  How does it make you feel?  What does it make you want to do…or not do?  For me, it gives me peace,  boundaries built by love.  When I forget the presence of God I easily lose focus and struggle to make sense of interruptions, pain, and trials.  But when I practice the presence of God, stopping to intentionally breathe in the Spirit-filled air and remember Who is always by my side, I find strength and purpose in the mundane or the struggle. I find safety under the watchful eye of my ever-present Guard.