Category Archives: abiding

listening to the soul…

it ended with molasses.

first came a week-and-a-half of stress on stress. work (both ministries, no less). family. a sick daughter-gift. more questions and paperwork on our house closing. one thing after another. it felt like each day added to the day before.

then came a day of running around, getting ready for Thanksgiving. the to-do list seemed reasonable at the start. a trip to the grocery store. make a salad for Thanksgiving dinner. pack for the mini-retreat/vacation we had planned for the weekend. make the pepparkakor cookie dough so we can make and decorate cookies on said retreat/vacation. a full day, but not unreasonable. but I could the soul-zapping pressures of the last weeks draining me further away from the spirit of Thanksgiving and into the vortex of commercialism and priorities of the world.

an email invitation came, reminding me of a community Thanksgiving service. shared desire to attend as a family, but the reality of two days gone awry.

progress was being made on the to-do list. cookie dough, laundry, and packing remained.

despite the careful grocery run earlier, the molasses was missed. the anticipated vacation highlight of Christmas cookie baking together could not happen without it.

back to the store. a moment alone in the car with my heart and soul. the clock ticking down to the Thanksgiving service. and much still to accomplish before days end.

as I exited one store with its Christmas craziness already in full swing, it hit me that an hour of sleep was less important than thanking God for His bounty. before entering the second store in search of the elusive molasses, I called home, saying my soul needed the service and could survive without the sacrificed sleep.

a terribly hurried run through the grocery store (and an exit with the molasses!), a quick dinner, and we were off.

we’ve not been to this church before. tradition washed over us before we even reached the building and continued for the next hour. the booming pipe organ. stained glass windows. a joyous choir. hymns of gratitude to the Father. familiar and not. healing to a weary and stressed soul. reminders of how deeply thankful every day can and should be.

the troubles and worries of the last few weeks melted as we soaked in the words of hymn and prayer. His goodness pervades our lives in so many seen and unseen ways. in the middle of tough decisions. among the myriad details each day brings. in quiet moments and loud clash of the season. woven throughout are His graces and provisions. painted across our days are His fingerprints, often the mark of which we cannot trace until later. the gentle and heart-wrenching lessons run together in the tapestry of our faith journey. and our souls are better for the time spent acknowledging His hand.

the forgotten molasses afforded me the quiet moment to hear the cry of my soul to rest and intentionally join with others in thanks. what seemed another stress became a beautiful evening together with our little family and the community. the cookie dough was accomplished. the bags and car were packed. the Thanksgiving holiday enjoyed.

and after all was said and done, the cookie dough was left behind!

(sugar cookies to the rescue! the pepparkakor will wait for us to get home…)

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Filed under abiding, being, gratitude, spiritual formation

strength and perseverance

it has been a windy season. most days our daughter-gift wakes up and asks if it is another windy day. or more likely, she makes a statement of it.

when we lived in southern California, it was news when the winds blew. sometimes Santa Ana winds, and other times from storms coming through the area. it always puzzled us how often downed trees made the news, downed by strong, but not devastating winds. I remember a co-worker once stating that her son had not slept all night because he was afraid of the wind.

in this land of four very distinct seasons the wind is not a headline-grabber by any stretch of the imagination. tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms, and severe weather in general, are part of life. we do talk about the weather here, and for good reason. it shapes us in ways we do not expect. a beautiful day, no matter the season, is cause to stop and enjoy, if only for a moment. a windy day, in our understated manner, will be called gusty. bitingly cold wind might be described as blustery. rarely do we consider our trees and worry about them toppling.

this difference between the stalwart northern trees and those of our California friends is striking. many of the trees making their way into the news were the same as the sturdy ones “back home.” so we researched. and talked to some who might understand our confusion. what we found was fascinating. and has implications on our spiritual lives.

for a tree, life in California is easy. lots of sun. a relatively temperate climate. few storms. it seems trees have little reason to work at sending their roots deep, so they spread wide. and trees topple in seemingly innocuous winds. the root system cannot tolerate much abuse and a strong gust will take a large tree down.

to survive the extreme seasons of the north, a tree must send its roots deep and wide. they must be strong. and they must persevere through the ever-changing weather. their wood is different, stronger, than an untested tree. a northern forest gives a wonderful picture of this strength and tenacity. the outer rim of a forest boasts the strongest trees, standing strong and mighty, facing the storms and protecting those in deeper. those inside, the protected ones, are not as strong. they will topple, much like those in California. their fortress of protection, when removed, leaves them vulnerable to the elements.

how like the trees we can be! how we often long for the easy California tree life! we pray God saves us from trial and testing, grateful for uneventful days, and breathing relief when tragedy is averted.

but in the trials, the windy, stormy times, He grows us. our roots in Him go deeper.

it is easy to feel abandoned to the storm. to wonder if He is punishing us or has forgotten our suffering.

maybe the better thought, the better question, is to ask which roots He is wanting to grow, where He might be strengthening our faith.

He does not send the storm to punish, but instead to protect. in those times we are not forgotten, as we might feel, but instead remembered, cared for, and nurtured.

even, and especially, in the storm.

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Filed under abiding, aches and lessons, being, life lesson, simple, spiritual formation

defining question…

there is a question that should be asked of everyone.

your answer to this one question, if honest, reveals more than almost any other.

I ask it frequently.

I wish someone had asked me more often.

how are you and Jesus?

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small graces…

lollypops

it was supposed to be a quick errand run, positioned on the edge of lunch and nap-time. our little daughter-gift is pretty laid back, even when the boundaries are pushed. so off we went. post office. bank. grocery store.

the lady at the bank did not offer a lollipop. the lady at the other bank always does, so this was confusing to my back seat passenger. she was easily placated with the promise of a lollipop or piece of gum at home, a cookie at the grocery store, or a cookie later in the evening when I baked. only one. the lolly won out. gum has been such a favorite lately, that I was certain it would be the sweet of choice.

it had to be a record for one of our shortest runs to the grocery store. less than twenty minutes. we emptied the cart contents onto the conveyor. and then it happened. the checker-lady asked her if she wanted a lolly (after a covert question to mom) and which color she would like. she chose green.

happiness knew no bounds for my girlie! all the way to the car, she told me over and over how the nice lady gave her a treat. it was such a yummy treat. and I was a kind mommy for letting her eat it before lunch.

there she sat, in the grocery cart, jabbering away, as I opened the car, dropped my purse and keys on the seat, hit the button to unlock the other doors, and closed the driver’s door. I always open her door before closing mine. always. for some reason, not today.

her door was locked. my door was locked. I’d hit the lock side of the button instead of unlock. my keys, phone, and wallet were locked in the car. we were stuck outside with our groceries, in the driving wind and drizzle. and my husband was out of town for a meeting until after lunch.

and that little green lolly? it became a grace gift, distracting her off and on for the next hour as we waited for the man to come and “break our door” so we could get in and go home. her little mouth was busy and happy, ignorant of the fact lunch should have been consumed. the sugar shot kept her going when she was tired. not enough to make her difficult, but just enough to keep her awake and interacting with me.

there are people who say God does not care about the small details of our lives. I disagree. the kindness of many at the grocery were important. the candy made a frustrating situation so much easier. and the best part? as we wheeled back into the store to find help, the little face in front of me looked up and said, “Mommy, we need help. we really need help, don’t we?” yes, sweetie, we need help. sometimes it is hard to admit we need help. today there were no other options. easily spoken words.

and before we could even ask Him for it, there was provision. more than we could accept. a ride home from the delivery driver. a booster seat loan. a hot lunch in the deli. kind and generous. a mirror of His grace.

it ended up being a short wait for the tow truck man. less than a minute to open the car. and we were on our way. from start to finish, less than an hour. but minutes filled with grace and care. before we could even ask.

God cares about the details.

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Filed under abiding, blessing, daughter-gift, gratitude, simple

the strong, quiet mirror…

have you ever met someone who undeniably knows Jesus, who serves as a mirror, reflecting Him? knows Him to the point their countenance and demeanor were almost surreal, yet the most genuine you’d ever experienced?

Mama Maggie Gobran is one of those people.

the depth of her humility was amazing.

she loves Jesus more than anything.

the children of Cairo’s garage dumps are forever changed, on many levels, for knowing her and being the focus of her ministry. thousands of lives have been saved. thousands more need help, especially as the Coptic Christians come under increasing persecution.

she blessed us, the thousands of conference attendees listening to her. through her words and presence, she blessed us. and as she left the stage, she knelt down, face to the floor, and asked God’s blessing over us. it was difficult to have the conference continue. listening to the next speaker, a loud, charismatic pastor, an internationally recognized figure, was almost painful after the few moments of her quiet speech.

the most beautiful part of her short talk? a deep, undeniable stirring of the soul that instead of whispering, shouted loud and strong, “I want to know Jesus like she does!”

oh, that I knew Him a tenth as well! would that others would see Him in me and He is seen in her!

I hear echoes of Saint Patrick, that Christ would be before, behind, above, below, within, and without me, that He would be seen and heard.

Mama Maggie gave us these words on the value of silence:

silence your body to listen to the words
silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts
silence your thoughts to listen to your heart
silence your heart to listen to your spirit
silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit

I will sit with this insight for a long time. as a contemplative introvert, silence is not difficult. but it can easily be pushed aside. the silence, especially when seeking Christ, is where the Spirit does much teaching. it is where we especially learn to abide. what a timely reminder, so wonderfully given.

have you ever experienced someone who drew you closer to Christ, who He shone through almost palpably, reflecting Him as a beautiful mirror?

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Filed under abiding, blessing, John 15, silence, spiritual formation

wise words…

remember those “thought a day” calendars? a kind friend gifted me with one that fits on many levels. the following quote from William Penn strikes me every year as it comes around on the little calendar. he said:

“I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, as I shall not pass this way again.”

what an amazing lifestyle!

how Christ-like and gracious!

I love his acknowledgement that each day is its own. there is no assumption on tomorrow, no guarantees. today holds itself and will not be repeated. and in light of that, do good and do it today! do not hesitate or second-guess the path ahead. be kind. do good. be as Christ to another.

a no-regrets life. a heart after Christ. a truly worthy life goal.

it is not big and flashy, but quiet and discreet. as Jesus taught so often.

the state of your heart.

serving another

with joy and goodwill.

not begrudging the good deed,

but living as a servant, continually on the lookout for someone needing a grace-gift in their day.

ah, Lord, teach me to be your hands and feet in this way!

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paradigm shift

we all have “a-ha” moments in life. sometimes while reading, often simply in our daily living.

small paradigm shifts that bring clarity, and hopefully deeper understanding of ourselves, others, and God.

I love the “a-ha” moments that bring comfort and encouragement.

indulge me a few minutes to share one of mine:

studying the Bible is nothing new for me. I have studied formally and informally for years. in school. on my own. for a grade, a project. as part of my job and ministry, in writing curriculum, mentoring. for myself, to listen and learn.

through the years, I have read the entire text multiple times. sometimes front to back, slogging through Exodus and Numbers, wincing at the detail of Jael killing her enemy with a tent peg, rejoicing with Esther when her people are saved, sitting with the crowds and listening to Jesus. other times a chronological or book study.

so it surprises me (pleasantly so!) when I find a verse or story I’ve previously missed.

this is one of my favorites:

The Lord your God is in your midst,

   a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

   he will quiet you with his love;

he will exalt over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17)

in applying this to my own relationship with God, I am fully aware this verse is completely out of context. and while the prophet is addressing Jerusalem, the characteristics of God remain true for all His children.

the paradigm shift for me came in a new picture of God the Father. somewhere along the way, I subscribed to a picture of Him that is stern, judgmental, and basically cross. coming across this verse ripped that picture to shreds, leaving me to honestly look at who God the Father is and what our relationship might look like.

He stands in the middle of my life, ready to save.

He rejoices over me–with deep gladness.

He cares enough to help calm my internal world and immerse me in His love.

He sings with great joy over me.

the God of the universe. Creator God. Abba Father. the Mighty Warrior.

loves me.

tenderly

passionately

protectively

with abandon

just writing those words, I am again left speechless.

how do you experience God? has He encouraged you so deeply that you are left speechless?

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