Friday, May 26, 2017

Getting there from here

I've been thinking about my spiritual journey lately and looking at the different junctures I've encountered along the way. All these crossing points start with the letter B, so I think there must be a sermon in there somewhere:)

1. Barriers -- We've all encountered them. They are those things that seemingly will not budge. They can take our focus away from God and tempt us to give up hope. Sometimes they are there because of something sinful we've done, but sometimes they aren't. Either way, these road blocks challenge our faith and trust in God.

Barriers can sometimes be spiritual deserts -- maybe God doesn't seem to be speaking the way He used to, doors of opportunity aren't opening, or life feels stale. I've had a couple of memorable desert seasons in my life. While I was in them, I was sometimes convinced I would never get out. But each desert season had a unique way of slowing my life down. In this place of stillness the areas where my life had become off balance came into focus. I'd placed my confidence too much in a job position or in what other people thought. God was asking me to put my confidence back in him. For me, the ticket out of the desert was surrender -- surrender of the picture I thought my life was going to look like -- surrender to God's plan.

2. Boundaries -- Boundaries are a buzzword in today's society. While they exist for our protection, that doesn't mean they aren't frustrating when they are encountered.

In my life, God has laid boundary lines in front of me several times that have stopped me from moving into a place that I wasn't yet equipped to handle. For me this has happened in situations where God spoke something to my heart and I thought it was supposed to happen right away. Wrong. This delay made me question whether or not I had heard God at all. My ticket out of this dilemma was patience. During the time that I (imperfectly) waited for God to deliver on His word, He was faithfully preparing me to be able to sustain and walk in what He had for me. In His grace, He refused to let me rush the process and risk destroying or diluting his purpose for my life.

3. Borders -- My family lived in Canada for four years, and during that time we crossed the border into the U.S. many times. It was always very obvious when we reached the border. It was a place that was clearly marked where we had to stop and present our identification before we could pass through.

Today, my family lives in Texas, and we regularly visit relatives in Tulsa. When we cross over the border from Texas into Oklahoma, if I'm paying attention, I see the sign letting me know I've entered another state. But there have been plenty of times when I didn't even realize when we crossed over from one state to another.

Similarly, there have been clearly marked events in my life where I've definitely crossed over into new territory. Marriage and parenting were two examples of this. While life still went on after both of these events, it was very apparent that I had entered into a new place. Decisions were made differently. Schedules changed. My life was forever altered -- (for the good).

Then there have been those borders that I crossed in my life without knowing exactly when it happened. These came at times when I walked through a long process of (imperfectly) choosing to be obedient to something God asked of me. One place this happened is where I chose to forgive when my heart didn't want to. For months I flip-flopped in my willingness to give things over to God, but each time I would land on the side of forgiveness. Over time, things didn't hurt as much. Then there was that day when I realized that I actually could wish that person well without wanting to hurl. Somewhere in all the wrestling, my heart had been set free. I'd crossed the border into true forgiveness.

4. Bridges -- Bridges help us cross over to places we could not reach on our own strength. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He laid down his life and in doing so spanned the huge canyon our sin had created that separated us from God.

There is a selfless path where God calls each of us to be a bridge. There are specific places God asks us to lay down our lives in a way that helps others to cross over into places they could not reach on their own. It's the Body of Christ in action. I want to say yes to that!
(I've written more about being a bridge in an earlier blog I posted in 2012 called "Like a Bridge".)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Keeping it real time (with my husband and Sir Paul)

About 10 years ago when my second daughter started college, she encouraged me to join a social media site called Facebook.

"It's mainly college kids," she explained. "But there are some people on it who are your age, and it will be a fun way for us to stay in contact."

I joined Facebook and had a great time inviting the college students I knew to be my friends. Our home computer at that time was upstairs and each night I would enjoy looking over the posts of my Facebook friends. It felt kind of like reading a news paper with stories about people I knew. I was shocked, however, why people would post pictures of their vacations and things like that. Why did they think everyone wanted to see their pictures of the Rocky Mountains, or Disney Land?

Over the last 10 years as the home computer has taken a backstage to the smartphone, it's become even easier to post personal details on multiple social media websites -- and I have followed the trend.

So much of this has been fun. I've kept track of birthdays and stayed in touch with friends and family in a way that doesn't happen by mailing letters. I can get regular pictures of my grandkids, and FaceTime allows me to see those dear to me as we chat. I enjoy keeping up to date on the events of my friends' lives. Sometimes I even like looking at the photos of what they ate for dinner (within reason).

But the whole social media thing has had an effect on me that I'm not proud to admit.

It's made it harder for me to "live in the moment."

I'm embarrassed to say that many conversations I have with my family and friends are at least temporarily disrupted with the "ping" of a text or Facebook message.

Whenever I have an extended time away from my phone, I'm swift to pick it up to see what I missed while I was gone.

At times when I am enjoying a night out with family or friends, instead of fully entering into the moment, I often think about capturing a photo so I can show everyone on Facebook or Instagram the great fun I'm having.

I want to be better than that.

I first became aware of this problem three years ago.

My husband surprised me with a road trip to Edmonton Alberta to see Paul McCartney in concert. As we sat in our seats waiting for the concert to begin, I pulled out my cell phone and started to take a selfie of the two of us in the midst of a swarm of Paul McCartney fans.

"What are you doing?" my husband asked.

"I'm taking a picture of us to post on Facebook," I answered.

"Dont do that!" he protested as he stuck his arm out to block my shot.

"Why not?" I said perturbed.

"This is OUR anniversary."


My husband's invitation for me to join him in real time hit me square between the eyes. It highlighted how I was thinking more about my "friends" in cyberland than I was about the person right in front of me.

We thoroughly enjoyed that evening. Sir Paul came back for 3 encores and the only photo I have to show for it is one I took at the beginning of the evening when we were standing in line waiting to get inside. I'm bundled up in my winter coat standing with a cut out of my favorite Beatle.

All the other pictures of the evening lay in the memories of my husband and I. We truly spent the evening together in real time.

Today my family will tell you I still spend way too much time on my phone, but since that McCartney concert, I'm more aware of the times I manage to live "unplugged" from social media whether it's watching the sun go down, enjoying a cup of coffee with my daughter, or just having a quiet day at home.

When all is said and done, I want to have really lived my life, and not just posted about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Offensive prayers

I like to think of myself as someone who is normally pretty gentle and kind.

But recently in my life experiences and conversations with God I have been convicted to be more offensive in the way I pray. Let me explain.

A little over a year ago my family moved from a small village in the Canadian prairies to the booming metroplex area of Dallas/Fort Worth Texas. In many aspects it felt exciting to be in a place pulsing with activity -- along with every store and eatery known to man. But on a deeper level I felt like I had been plopped into the middle of oblivion. In the center of this swirl of busyness and business, I knew very few people, and I struggled to know how to connect with others in a meaningful way. Everything was huge. Our church, with all of it's campuses, had 30,000 people in attendance each week. I felt truly invisible.

I remember thinking that if it weren't for my daughter and my husband living in the same home with me, I could literally die in my house and no one would find me until my body had totally decomposed. No one would know to look for me because no one knew me.

During this time of felt obscurity, I was still praying to God every day. In some way I knew He was with me which made a big difference. He saw me alone in my house doing laundry, cleaning and watching Pioneer Woman and HGTV every day. I even believed that He had called our family to move to Texas. I just didn't know why.

I didn't stop talking to God. I told Him I was willing to do whatever He'd called me to. I asked Him to show me what I should do next. As I continued to check out small groups and Bible studies, I was perplexed as no prospective connections came from it. Everyone seemed to already have their circle of friends. I was tired, and fought a bad attitude when I had to re-introduce myself to people I'd already met several times.

One day as I returned home from my morning walk I was really battling a heaviness that told me that I'd reached my peak -- that this place of anonymity was what my life was going to be.

I screamed at the top of my lungs, "God, You didn't bring me to Texas to finish out my life in obscurity! The best years of my life are NOT over!"

The spiritual atmosphere immediately shifted. I could sense God's Spirit saying -- "That's right. Keep going."

I began to realize that while I had been asking God to do battle for me in this difficult place, He instead wanted to partner with me. He was waiting for me to take up my sword and fight.

As I look back on that hissy fit I had in my kitchen, I can see how I was actually screaming out God's truth back to Him. In a really raw way I was making a declaration about His character. I was learning to wield the sword of the Spirit -- the only offensive weapon we are given by God for spiritual warfare.

I'm beginning to realize that maybe there are times I've been spinning my wheels in prayer because I've been asking for some things God has already given me. For example, I have regularly prayed,"God, please be with me." But as I grab onto His Word from Hebrews 13:5-6 I can also declare, "God I thank you that you will never leave me or forsake me. You are my helper and I will not be afraid."

The shift from a passive request to an active declaration is subtle but powerful.

Declaration is NOT a magic bullet. It does not manipulate God to give me what I want. It's also not the only way to pray. I'm simply realizing for myself it's a piece that has been lacking in my prayer life.

Today as I consider my life here in Texas, I can see places where I am making positive connections through my work and also where my niche might be in this huge cow town. Although I still have days when I ask God why we are here, on the whole my prayer life is more expectant and hopefully more offensive:)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Dance With Me

I am a recovering performaholic.

That means if I'm going to do something -- especially something in public -- I want to do it pretty perfectly. This quality served me well for making good grades in school and for being a good employee, but it has a downside as well.

I can recall multiple times in my life when I was given the opportunity to participate in an activity that I didn't do so well, like playing volleyball or trying to make it over the vaulting horse in P.E. class. Instead of just fumbling through it, I found a way to excuse myself.

Obviously one of the core ingredients of this is pride. In my adult years God has been faithful to lead me through many humbling experiences that have helped to peel layers off of this need to be flawless.

But underneath all of this performance was an even deeper layer -- the longing to be truly known and fully loved JUST AS I AM.

That's been my growing edge for my adult life -- learning how to authentically be myself and understanding how completely God loves me no matter what.

Last month I got smacked head-on with an experience that challenged me at this core level.

It happened when I danced with my husband at a wedding reception.

That may seem like no big deal, but I've never danced with my husband before.

That's probably shocking to some. I actually love to move to music. I grew up going to school dances. But at our Christian college, dancing was prohibited at the time, so my husband and I didn't dance then and never really took the chance after that -- until this reception.

The DJ asked for all the married couples to come out onto the dance floor. It was going to be incredibly obvious that we were NOT participating if we didn't go, so we did. We found a place over by the corner and tried to blend into the big bunch of couples swaying together to the music.

Then the DJ started asking couples to leave the floor who had been married 10 years or less. About half the floor left.

My heart started pounding. I could figure out this game. My husband and I have been married for 33 years, which means that we were one of the oldest relationships on this dance floor. Slowly as each decade of married people were asked to sit down, our dance circle became smaller and smaller until there were only about 7 couples left on the floor.

Suddenly we were very visible. I felt so awkward. I had bad hair, I felt fat and I hated my outfit.

We sat down soon after this, but not before one of my daughter's friends snapped our photo and texted it to her.

My daughter sent it to me. I was horrified. My awkward moment had been captured in a photo. When I got home I said to my daughter "Don't you dare post that anywhere on social media. I'm ugly."

The disappointed look on her face shocked me into reality. I had just danced with my wonderful husband for the first time in my life -- someone who knows me fully and loves me completely -- and the monumental moment was lost on me because I didn't like the way I looked. Instead of focusing on my groom, I focused on myself. God forgive me.

The last month, I've been eating humble pie. I've apologized to my daughter, my husband and God. I'm trying to learn and grow from this.

Last week when I was out for a walk by myself thinking about this experience, I felt the Holy Spirit say, "Will you dance with me?"

I started to cry. I knew this invitation wasn't because my performance had been flawless. I'd really messed up. It was an invitation to focus on the Him and let Him lead in a dance that celebrates our relationship -- one where I am fully known and completely loved.

It would have been really easy to keep this spiritual lesson to myself, but I am sharing it in case there are others who are sitting on the sidelines because they have disqualified themselves in someway. It's not about how imperfect we are. Is about how wonderful God is.

There's plenty of room on the dance floor.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Who's Watching?

So often we judge success by how many people are watching.

Television shows are taken off the air if there aren't enough viewers. University classes are cancelled if there aren't enough students to make a profit. Some celebrities demand a certain sized audience before they will consider coming to a venue. We can make judgments on how "popular" people are based on the amount of Facebook friends they have.

Several years ago I was visiting someone in a Catholic hospital in the U.S. Each time that I visited I passed by a cute little chapel that was there for the patients. Each time I passed by it was empty. I felt sad that no one was using this sacred space, and felt sorry for the priest who I imagined had to cancel Mass if no one came.

I was wrong.

Several months later I found out from a pastor friend that even when a congregation is absent, a priest, often along with an altar server, still conducts Mass. The reasoning being that a priest is never entirely alone. There's always a host of angels standing in honor of their Lord and God.

Whoa. I suddenly felt so shallow.

In my focus on earthly facts and figures, I had completely forgotten about the bigger reality of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It's a Kingdom where many times our most important actions take place when there aren't earthly throngs cheering us on. Maybe it's choosing to forgive someone who has wronged you; refusing to gossip; helping someone who could never return the the favor. Sometimes the biggest triumph is simply continuing to move forward and staying true to where God called you even when it feels you aren't making a difference.

It's in those deep private places when life stops being a performance and becomes an offering to God.

Just like the hospital priest knew, it's an offering that God and all of heaven witnesses.

Hebrews 12:1-3: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Beginning of the Beginning

I'm trying to find my new normal.

I've just returned home after being gone a month to be with my mom in the final weeks of her life. It's going to take me some time to process all that happened in this intense but precious time. There were things I experienced as I watched my mother's life fade away that I still don't understand but I know something important has been deposited in me. Things aren't tied up neatly in a bow, but the main emotion that I am left with is awe.

Here's what I shared about my experience at mom's memorial service.

My Mom was a strong woman.

She had a strong will and a strong faith in God. When she found out she had cancer, she had a strong desire to live and believed God for her healing. And after a complete round of chemo treatments, she did seem to beat her cancer for a time, but then it came back and this time it didn’t respond well to chemo.

During this time I tried to pray prayers of faith for her healing but it felt like they fell flat. I asked God “What are you doing?” In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of my Mom. She was a radiant bride walking down the aisle and her face shone with light. I knew in my spirit she was walking down the aisle to Jesus, the Bridegroom. This image gave me a sense that mom’s struggle with cancer would no doubt bring her closer to Jesus but I knew it also could potentially mean that this was a path that would ultimately take her to heaven with Jesus.

From that point I adjusted my prayers to pray that not one day ordained for my mom’s life would be stolen from her and that every day she would grow closer to Jesus.

I had the honor of being with Mom and observing the last steps of her earthly journey during her two and a half weeks in hospice after she suffered a stroke.

During this time I witnessed the clash of my mom’s will to live with the reality that she was in the process of dying. This showed up in what is called terminal agitation. My mom would doze for 20-30 seconds and then startle awake looking around at her strange surroundings. A hospice nurse explained agitation to me like this: We all say we look forward to seeing our loved ones in heaven, but if you knew that you were dying right now you would probably freak out.

I imagined myself having amazing conversations with mom about heaven, but that wasn’t happening. She resisted talking about heaven because she wasn’t ready to die.

That changed on December 12. Mom was in a lot of pain that day and moaned and fidgeted a lot. In the afternoon she moaned a bit and I asked if she was hurting, and she said “It’s spectacular.” I thought maybe she was a little loopy so I asked her what was spectacular. She said, “The sounds of heaven.” I was in awe and I watched her over the next hour or so writhe in pain while she also struggled to speak about the preview God was giving her of her future home in glory.

From that day on, her gaze changed. She was focused on Jesus. She didn’t speak much after that afternoon. Even though her spirit was set on Jesus, her little body fought and fidgeted on.

A good friend of my mom and dad visited one afternoon near the end of her life and read a Scripture that gave great perspective. It was 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

As my mom’s body grew weaker each day, this Scripture helped me realize that I was witnessing my mother’s process of becoming more and more eternal until she eventually stepped into heaven on December 17.

I am forever changed by the experience.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Consensual Union

Yes is a powerful word. Especially when it's a response to God.

This Christmas season I've been contemplating the role that Mary played in the birth of Jesus. A Bible verse started my musings, but not a traditional Christmas verse. This verse goes all the way back to the beginning -- all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

The verse is Genesis 3:15 where God is cursing the serpent.

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel."

My mind fell on two words -- her seed.

This Scripture is obviously speaking about the future triumph of Christ over the power of Satan, the enemy. But here, Jesus is referred to as the "seed of the woman."

Fast forward to Mary, a young virgin, chosen to carry and give birth the Jesus. God could have done anything in this scenario, but when I look closely, I marvel at how God chose to usher in the birth of His son in partnership with Mary. He uses her seed -- her egg. I guess up to this time I just figured God implanted a pre-fertilized egg into Mary and -- tada! She was pregnant. But He used her seed.

That means Jesus probably looked like Mary. Her genetic makeup was combined with God's. I am in awe that God invites a mere mortal to play such an integral role in the birth of His Son.

So, maybe I've seen too many biology videos on the "miracle of birth", but I wonder in Mary's case, when did conception happen? When did she actually become pregnant?
In the videos we see the sperm that is trying to burrow through the protective lining of the egg. Finally, when a pregnancy occurs, there is an opening and the egg becomes fertilized, and life begins.

I don't think Mary's impregnation was that different. A yielding had to occur from within her. I think conception happened when Mary said "Yes" to God's plan.

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."

The incredible love of God! He could have forced His will upon Mary, but God doesn't rape. Life springs forth when a fully-yielded heart says yes to God.

I ponder the truth of this for my own life. Where are the places God's Spirit is wooing me? Where is He inviting me to partner with Him in something that ushers in His life and presence? This Christmas I am impacted by the power of the choice I make to God's invitation. I want to be like Mary and respond with a yielded heart. I say YES.