A Vigil-Keeping God

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To be honest, I have struggled with the limitations and the losses of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the time I am weary and feel like I am carrying extra weight on my shoulders. Can you relate to having extra layers of physical exhaustion and mental stress? Even further for me, the loss of my job has uncovered deeper vulnerabilities. It’s like a hidden stream of regret is bubbling up from the ground of past choices, albeit good ones. As I was exploring personally, God led me to a verse in Exodus. The words “the Lord kept vigil” hit me like a deeply needed hug from a friend. The Lord kept vigil. God is a vigil-keeping God. Wow. The Lord is keeping vigil. I just can’t get over it.

“Because the Lord kept vigil that night to bring them out of Egypt, on this night all the Israelites are to keep vigil to honor the Lord for the generations to come.”   Exodus 12:42

What do you think of when you hear the word “vigil?” Remembering the victims of a tragedy? Lighting a candle? Praying for someone? Waiting bedside in a hospital? Protesting non-violently against injustice?

Previous to the night God kept vigil, his desperate people cried out in misery. They were oppressed, enslaved, and quite possibly out of hope. They were beaten down by the situation in which they found themselves. They needed rescue. What once was a place of life and nourishment, a place that actually saved their lives from famine, became a harsh, driving, open air prison.

But God heard their cries and prayers and began to work a plan. There is much to this story, handfuls to glean, but my heart and mind laser-focused on one aspect: the attentiveness of God. Maybe your heart and mind need to see this too?

Shooting straight to my beat down, weary heart and mind, God’s like,

“I keep vigil for you. The light is on. I am awake.”

He was working throughout the ordeal back then and he is working throughout this ordeal in 2020 as well. He stayed up guarding and observing his children. God stays up all night, every night. He keeps vigil.

I will not forget the 54 hours I kept vigil, praying for my son as he completed the last, most challenging test before becoming a United States Marine. Well I wasn’t awake for all of those 54 hours, but most of them anyway. It’s tradition for family members and friends, especially mothers, to decorate and keep a lantern lit during the excruciating test of endurance as they pray for their loved ones, cheering them home.

In the dictionary in Google a vigil is defined as “a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.” When people sleep, God is awake. The night of very first Passover God stayed awake protecting the babies and families whose households had blood on their doorways, foreshadowing the coming Christ. They did what God asked in a desperate act of trust in a God who they believed for rescue.

One of the songs the Israelites would later sing as they kept vigil, walking to Jerusalem to celebrate, remember, and observe the very night of God’s rescue, is recorded in Psalm 121.

“I raise my eyes to the mountains: from where does my help come? My help comes from Yahweh, maker of heavens and earth. He doesn’t give your foot to slipping; your keeper doesn’t doze. There, he doesn’t doze and he doesn’t sleep, Yisrael’s keeper. Yahweh is your keeper, Yahweh is your shade, at your right hand. By day the sun will not strike you down, or the moon by night. Yahweh will keep you from everything bad; he will keep your life. Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in, from now and permanently.” (First Testament translation)

Every time they sung this it jogged their memory on who their God was and what he did and what he can do.  This is who God is, the awake one, the God who keeps watch.

It reminded me of a time when Jesus asked some of his disciples to keep watch. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t stay awake on the night Jesus was in trouble. When the weight of the world pressed down on Jesus, his friends lacked the endurance to stay awake. He would go off to pray in another section of the garden and he asked them to watch and pray. But each time he came back, they were asleep. Jesus stayed awake crying out to his Father in heaven but they kept falling asleep.

On the night of Passover celebrating the very first Passover God kept vigil again, this time with flesh on. This time, instead of the sacrifice of an animal, he was processing his way to the surrender of himself for the rescue of his friends, the ones who couldn’t stay awake. And it’s for us, too, his new friends. God keeps vigil when we can’t.

When we are weary God keeps vigil. His light is on and he is awake, cheering us on, working on our rescue, standing with us in our suffering, and waiting for us to come home.

God

Help us remember you are awake. We praise you because your light is on. You are light. Even though we have many questions, we look to you. We feel weighed down, we need you. When we feel we can’t take anymore, help us see the light of your lantern lit for us until we are safe and home. Your ways and your love are more than we can fully see. But let us see the reflection and glimmer all around us in the midst of these uncertain and sometimes volatile times. Let us be your love and light to the ones near us. You are a vigil-keeping God. We can sleep and rest because you are indeed awake. 

Amen 

Safe-harbor-God

Psalm 62:7-8 (The Message)

“my help and glory are in God—granite-strength and safe-harbor-God— So trust him absolutely, people; lay your lives on the line for him. God is a safe place to be.”

I had a few hours before our stay-at-home order was to go into effect. We had already been staying home as much as possible for a week. No school for the kids, which also means no job for me. I am a substitute teacher. My mind had been reeling over the lost income. How long will this last? Do I need to look for another job? I had just settled in to this one.

 

Along with lack of income, I was struggling at the thought of all 8 of us being together all of the time for an undetermined amount of time. I LOVE my family but it is good for us to have time a apart, if you know what I mean.

 

With the time left, Dave wanted to go to Menard’s, a local store akin to Home Depot, to get stuff for the house and yard. I, on the other hand, had the urge to go to Lake Michigan to be inspired and refreshed. That’s us in a nutshell, work and play.

 

Dave encouraged me to go, knowing it would help me. Once there with iPhone camera, Bible and notebook in hand, I started to walk. I took in what my eyes could find as I got my bearings in this new-to-me place. I intentionally slowed my mind and body. As the 30 degree cold wind hit my face I saw the water, the lighthouse, the sky, the rocks and the walking path hugging the shoreline. Something about big water and big sky draws me toward God and stillness.

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As I turned the corner toward the marina it dramatically became warmer. I took a breath enjoying the change. About 10 steps later the noise shifted, becoming extremely quiet. It was so strange that a line of huge rocks could drastically change the volume of the lake. On one side of the breakwater it was loud and choppy, but on the other it was perfectly calm and noticeably hushed. A small group of people sat and chatted on a lone boat among lines of empty docks. Wisconsin had yet to mandate staying at home.

It hit me like a ton of bricks, this is what I need to know and remember. God is like this, a safe harbor. When all the world is swirling about, when the news batters our minds, and when the real threat of sickness or death shakes us, we have a place to go. God is our safe harbor.

 

Later, I googled “safe harbor scripture.” Psalm 62 in The Message version came up. I read it. I read it again. I let the truth take up residence inside my body. For eternity and for now, God is a “safe-harbor-God.”

 

At home, while this continued to simmer in my heart and mind, I looked up another version of Psalm 62 from John Goldingay’s “The First Testament.” In verse 1 and verse 5 similar phrases struck me: “indeed, towards God my entire being is silent,” and “indeed be silent towards God, my entire being.”

Psalm 62:1-8 (from The First Testament)

“Indeed, towards God my entire being is silent; from him my deliverance comes. Indeed, he is my crag and my deliverance, my turret – I shall not slip far. How long will you attack someone, commit murder, all of you? Like a bent wall, a fence that’s been pulled down – indeed, they have taken counsel so as to pull him down from his dignity. They accept lying; they bless with their mouth, but inside they slight. (Rise)

Indeed, be silent towards God, my entire being, because from him my hope comes. Indeed, he’s my crag, my deliverance, my turret – I shall not slip. On God rests my deliverance and my splendour; my strong rock, my shelter, is God in person. Trust in him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts before him; God is our shelter. (Rise)

 

I escaped to the lake, trying to navigate this new territory in which we find ourselves. I became silent. The noise is loud. My heart had been rising within me. I needed quiet. Yes, we need to listen to the important current realities. We need to take appropriate action, for ourselves and others. But we also need to be silent towards God. Why? Verse 1 and 5 also say, “from him my deliverance comes” and “because from him my hope comes.” These are promises from God: deliverance and hope. Find a spot and a time to still yourself before God. He will calm the waters of your mind and heart. He is our safe harbor during this storm.

calm water harbor

What part of your mind and heart are churned up because of what is happening with the Covid-19 virus? How is God calming you in these unprecedented days? Have you found a new rhythm in order to get quiet before God? If you are so inclined, share in the comments. What you are finding just may help someone else.

Braving the Journey through Pain

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THE JOURNEY THROUGH PAIN

Have you ever looked at your pain straight in the eye and thought, “Do I need to go there? Do I want to go there?” Have you ever decided to begin the journey of moving toward it and through it. When I see someone else do it, I see bravery. I don’t usually see it in me but this journey of facing pain does require courage and bravery whether we recognize it or not.

House on a Hill is a song breathing life into me these days as I am processing pain related to messages I received as a young girl. In this song, Amanda Lindsey Cook writes with God’s voice to us,

“Is it heavy where wounds have left a mark? …. If you’re wondering who can heal your brokenness. I can, I can. I’ll meet you in the house upon the hill. How I want to show you I am real. Allow Me to introduce Myself again..”

I’ve been through the pain-healing process before, many times for small things, a couple of times for big things. Sometimes a journey to the past is necessary to live more healthy and whole today.

WHAT WE’VE DONE

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Once my shame was so big and strong it went with me everywhere. To church. At home. In bed. While praying. While reading my Bible. This dark cloud was my travel companion, my filter through which life poured in. A slow, steady awakening made me aware of how my sexual sin and excessive drinking as a teenager for a time was the root.

Sinking in the mire of insecurity and shame I reached out my hand to grab hold of the dignity and freedom Jesus offered. I learned to pray things like “show me your glory and reveal yourself to me” from Bible Study teacher, Beth Moore. God’s truer nature opened me to risk my vulnerable self with Him. On the floor of 813 Weber Ave, during the mundane, exhausting days of motherhood with 4 kiddos 5 and under, God overwhelmed me with his never-changing, steadfast love. Words like “mercy” and “grace” blew wide open. I discovered his love didn’t rise and fall with how I felt about myself. It didn’t rise and fall with my lack of patience with my kids. It didn’t rise and fall with how clean my house was that day. It stayed constant, like a never-ending flow of water to this thirsty young mom.

This Jesus I had believed in since I was a small child proved himself compassionate in my failings. Jesus wasn’t surprised or scared of my weakness. It’s why he came. On the pages of scripture his gentleness and strength became tangible toward this young girl – a girl who got caught up in being liked and cherished, with a desire for belonging and significance, but who sinned nonetheless. In his kindness, he literally took away my shame and gave me honor. The shame cloud shattered and fell to the floor.

I think this coming to Jesus, acknowledging what we’ve done is brave because we aren’t sure what will happen next. Will we be accepted? Will the grace be enough? Will we feel it? Is it really true?

WHAT HAS BEEN DONE TO US

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When my counselor used the words “sexual assault” to define what had been done to me, there was shock even though it happened over 25 years ago. “Oh, yeah. I guess it was,” I thought as I sat there stunned at what the adolescent girl in me experienced.

Looking trauma in the eye and honestly asking how it has affected us takes humility and guts. Multiple, little arrows pointed the way to the culmination of discovery at a silent retreat. I had developed a system of despise like the internal structure of a building stemming from my trauma. It kept me safe but locked, stable but withering. It was familiar but destructive.

I looked at people in my church and judged them constantly. There were times I couldn’t have compassion. The default mode was despise, not full love and mercy-flowing, regard for others. God showed me in my wounding I had forgotten him, not intentionally but as an involuntary reaction to an assault on my body, mind and spirit by someone who claimed to love me. God revealed to me his anger at injustice, when women’s bodies are violated, not valued and empowered. Jesus revealed to me he was present when it happened and he was binding up my wounds. Jesus tended and cared for my bleeding heart. Instead of blocking up the flow of pain with despise I could allow Jesus to collect it to himself. He could receive it and offer me a new way.

I didn’t feel brave most of the time through these journeys, but God did give me courage. If you need courage to face the pain of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you I am here to tell you, it is worth it. But I wouldn’t advise doing it without Jesus. He destroys shame and reveals despise. He gives honor and exchanges our default for love. He shattered all my expectations and met my deepest needs through the pain. I don’t have adequate words to tell you how much I love him.

Now as I look this new, old pain straight in the eye regarding gendered messages, I want to remember how Jesus showed up before with compassion and justice, grace and truth, presence and action. He will be enough, again.

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A Child and Jesus Ask “What do You want?”

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A Little Boy’s Question

Mother’s Day conversation with one of my 8 year old boys:

“Mom, what do you want? Anything. I will get you anything. What do you want?”

Yes, he really said this! What? Trust me, most of what comes out of their mouths is about what THEY want, not what their mom wants.

He thinks for a minute.

“Well, I don’t have any money, but Dad does. He can get it. What do you want? Anything.”

I was not able to answer quite yet. A little later on, he continues.

“Mom, seriously. Do you want a necklace? A bracelet? Earrings? Where do you want to go? How about Target? Let’s go there.”

He grows more impatient since I am not giving definitive answers. My little boy wants to get me anything I want.

I cry at the thought.

I felt guilty on this past Mother’s Day because really deep down, I want to be more than a mother. I think, “Is there something wrong with me? I should be happy and thankful with what I have.” But truly it is not because I am not thankful. I don’t agree with people who say thankfulness and desire can’t coincide. But I did wrestle as he asked me such a tender, generous question.

What a Question Can Reveal

Moments later, a memory popped up on my FB feed. It is of me teaching to a group of women at church 4 years ago. I began to cry, again.

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Yes, this is what I want.”

But I don’t have a place right now.

Well, I do have blogging, but it feels different. People are not right in front of me. I can’t see your eyes, your body language. I don’t know if you are connecting with what I am saying or not. I get energized by being with people. At my core, I am an extrovert.

As I typed this interaction down in my Notes app, I sensed,

“This desire is good, not bad.” 

The desire to teach is how God has made me. I am actually created for it and currently I am not doing it. The sadness is real. And it’s not wrong. It’s okay. Sometimes we receive the message that our desires are bad, evil, and selfish. For sure they can be, but many are from God and good. Oftentimes I get my wires crossed and can not tell what’s good and what’s bad. On this particular Mother’s day my wires were on the fritz, as my emotions sent mixed and conflicting signals. I believe this is one of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives, untangling wires and helping us see what is supposed to be connected for life and power and what is meant to get disconnected.

The sadness that day was real. And it’s not wrong. It visits some days and leaves me alone on other days. It’s okay. So I began to a pray a prayer of surrender and put forth a plea.

“God, show me. Lead the way. I want to teach. Give me an opportunity to teach, live and in person.”

My heart began to beat faster at the thought. But the Spirit brought to mind some of the things I have needed to acknowledge were present, deal with and keep saying goodbye to:

“Leave behind the striving to be excellent. Perfect. Wonderful. Amazing.

Leave behind the desire to be upfront. On stage. Having attention. The praise of people.

Leave behind the desire to be known. Acknowledged. Famous. (Ugh. Hard to write.)

Leave behind the desire for success. Numbers. Likes. Comments.

Wait. Even people being changed. No. This is good.

But leave behind any inkling that it is within your power to actually change someone.”

I don’t have that power or responsibility. I am asked to be obedient and faithful to what I am made and called to do.

Teach. Write. Tell about Jesus.

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I am learning it is brave to own who you are made to be because there are no guarantees, no assurance that “success” will come how we want or think it will. The end is in question. The results are not a given. There will be failures. We will shake and wobble. We will laugh at ourselves in the process. We will second guess again. There will be room for improvement and development always. Not everyone will like what we do. Not everyone will like the way I teach and write. Not everyone will like me. And that is okay. Not everyone will like you. Am I speaking to anyone? Bueller?

Jesus With the Same Question

A little boy on Mother’s Day is not the only one who says, “What do you want?”

When I was a mom of young ones the first time around, God opened my eyes to his love in the life of his son Jesus in the gospel of John. The first recorded words of Jesus in this gospel narrative were the very same question.  A decade or so ago, (maybe more, let’s not figure it out!) this question shot straight to my own heart. I heard the voice of Jesus to me as I read,

“What do you want?” 

Jesus saw two of his peeps following him. Were they stalking him!? Another person, John, had just said this about Jesus as he passed by,

“Look, the Lamb of God!” 

Their interest was definitely piqued, so much so they started following him, not directly talking to him but watching, waiting, looking for something. They probably weren’t even sure what they looking for.

But Jesus noticed them and speaks directly to them. There are a multitude of things he could have said. I love the directness and simplicity of Jesus. It’s an open-ended question which I have a strong fondness for as a teacher. Their nosy, curious response is,

“Rabbi, where are you staying?”

His reply, an invitation to every single one of us, is,

“Come and you will see.”

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They ended up spending the day with him, watching, listening, and learning what he was about. We have the opportunity for this as well. Okay, not exactly like them, but we do. Pick a gospel, the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Go slowly. Really observe Jesus. Look around at your life. Where is God moving? How is he meeting and restoring people and places around you? Watch. Wait. Look. Hear him say to your heart,

“What do you want? Come and you will see.”                  (John 1:37-39)

A little boy mirrored my savior, friend, and God that day. Take note. God is speaking. Are you paying attention?

Who Knew Obedience Could Be Such a Beautiful Word?

Have you ever had to make a decision you didn’t very much like? When was the last time you said a difficult no? In a world that likes the word yes more than no, it can feel unsettling and wrong to say no.

It was a painful decision to step down from my volunteer role as Women’s Ministry Lead last year. There were three reasons: I wasn’t paid (I could really use a paid job!), it wasn’t a perfect fit (parts were great, parts were not!), and I felt like my family needed more time from me in the upcoming season (some seasons of parenting are more consuming than others!).

 

Two of my kiddos especially needed above and beyond the “normal” amount of energy and brain space this past year as we have been navigating some unexpected challenges.

 

This time away from a specified role in ministry has forced me to face messages from my past about women and leadership. (which BTW has been difficult but GOOD. I will certainly be writing about it!) The search for a paid job has caused heartache with my lack of work experience and frustration with my limited weekly schedule as I continue to be the primary caregiver to our children, especially our two 8 year olds. The time needed and devoted to helping my kids with these challenges has humbled me and has caused me to lose my cool multiple times with regard to getting the correct support from both health care professionals and school staff.

 

I have made mistakes and done it imperfectly, but I have tried to seek what my kids need both from outside the home and within the home. It has been a roller coaster ride in multiple respects. We are in a much better place today but we are still navigating through it.

 

Recently I received a positive email about one of my children. The teacher spoke of my child with delight and commendation. Tears well up as I type right now. My child is coming along. My child is on the way. We are moving in a good direction. I am deeply thankful.

My mind immediately went to a blog post I had just read by a fellow writing community member. In https://hopehearthome.com/hi-ho-hi-ho-its-off-to-write-we-go/ she said the act of writing is obedience for her. Now, in our day and age and culture we don’t like the word obedience. Heck, I do not like the word obedience! It feels formal and sterile, suffocating and horrible. Seriously, I have an aversion to the word. But there was something beautiful about it in her story. As I read, she drew me toward an encounter between Moses and God through her writing.

 

It hit me, as I read the email from the teacher, the small, quiet voice of the Spirit,

 

“You were obedient.”

 

Huh, I guess I was. Wow. I didn’t quite see it that way back then. One of the most heart wrenching decisions of my life was stepping down from that ministry role and giving up a position of influence and creativity. I was enjoying leadership in this capacity even with its challenges and hardships. I sensed the prompting to step down, but it was not crystal clear. It was fuzzy at best.

There was another time recently, when I listened to a friend describe something she was stepping into as “obedience.” She was clear. I remember thinking, “I wish I had the clarity she has,” as I was still muddling through the aftermath of saying no to something without having a full yes to replace it. Because as the responsibilities with meeting my children’s needs did take up a certain amount of time, I still had idle time. Still do. Time unnamed and waiting for an assignment can wreak havoc on a soul. I have been fighting with myself (and sometimes with my husband) over what I am supposed to do with the rest of me and my time that is available. But there is an upside as well, with open time new things can sprout up or crystallize.

Clarity is beginning to bubble to the top. When the time comes I think I am going to be able to say it’s obedience when I do it. It’s the weirdest thing, this shift. I have been waiting for a long time for more clarity on next steps, but as Emily P. Freeman says in her new book, The Next Right Thing, “The middle still counts even though it’s ordinary. Maybe the middle counts most of all.” I am relearning again, the road to obedience is just as important as obedience. God has been so tender here. That’s why true, good obedience is not sterile or formal or rigid at all when it is rooted in love and relationship.

 

We see this as Jesus loved the Father. Jesus came to earth down obedience road. He shared deep communion with his Father through the experience. He was all in for his Father and for us. There was a call to follow, work to do, and a mission to fulfill. And we are not any different in this aspect. We can experience deep communion with God on our own obedience road. We each have a call, work and a mission.

Here is an encounter Jesus had with people who wondered who he was and what he was about:

 

“They said to him, ‘Just who are you anyway?’

 

‘What I’ve said from the start. I have so many things to say that concern you, judgements to make that affect you, but if you don’t accept the trustworthiness of the One who commanded my words and acts, none of it matters. That is who you are questioning-not me but the One who sent me.’

 

They still didn’t get it, didn’t realize that he was referring to the Father. So Jesus tried again. ‘When you raise up the Son of Man, then you will know who I am-that I’m not making this up, but speaking only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me stays with me. He doesn’t abandon me. He sees how much joy I take in pleasing him.’

 

When he put it in these terms, many people decided to believe.”       [John 8:25-30, The Message]

 

Do you see it? The love, joy, and obedience all wrapped into one. Look and listen carefully to how Jesus describes things. Read multiple versions of the same encounter. If you read the whole book of John in the Bible, you will see it! The love relationship between Father and Son brought Jesus here to earth to love on us.

 

Later in John 14:31, Jesus says,

 

“But so the world might know how thoroughly I love the Father, I am carrying out my Father’s instructions right down to the last detail.”

 

Love and obedience go hand and hand as Jesus followed the Father and as we follow them as well.

 

As Jesus is preparing to leave the earth he reassures his followers,

 

“I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you. The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love her and make myself plain to her.”

[John 14:18-21]

 

I am far from finishing up all the things God has for me here on this earth. At least I think so, I could drop dead tomorrow! But I am growing in the beauty and appreciation of staying close to God as I wait and make decisions. I am seeing a fresh glimpse of the beauty of obedience.

Prayer

 

God, I do not know all the answers to the big questions of my vocational future, but I want to stay close, so close to you that I will know it when I see it. You will bring into view whatever I need to see. You will give the opportunities. The path will appear. Give me faith each day. You are good. Until I see you face to face, help me to choose obedience road.

 

What does obedience road look like for you? Have you experienced the connection between love and obedience? Is the word obedience sterile and formal to you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

When Have You Sensed There is More?

My run always ends where the path runs into a field. I turn the corner every time and walk up a hill to my car. Usually my conversation with God has concluded by then. I slow down my breath, walk, get water and stretch, thankful for the time and the run and God speaking into my life.

 

On this particular day about a year ago, I was on the verge of tears the whole time since I was in the middle of something difficult. I thought I heard all I needed to hear, but God wasn’t done. And I didn’t shed all the tears needed yet. As my breathing slowed, my heart slowed with the thought,

 

“There is more to me than being a wife and mom.”

 

Tears.

 

The exact circumstances do not matter at this point. When in your life have you felt like you, at your core, were more than your roles, more than what you currently do? When have you felt the gap? When have you sensed there is more?

 

God broke through and saw me there. I looked to Jesus in that moment. Jesus is so real and important to me. Scripture says he is the exact representation of God in heaven, the creator. A scene flashed in my mind, from the book of John in the New Testament of the Bible, in which Jesus was with Nathanael under the fig tree. Jesus saw him before he actually saw him. Jesus knew him before he actually knew him. Nathanael was astonished. So astonished that the encounter made him exclaim,

 

“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49)

fig tree

After the scene flashed, I sensed Jesus move close to me and whisper,

 

“I do know. I know you are more than a wife and mom. I know. I see.”

 

Jesus knows me and sees me. Jesus knows you and sees you. He sees us ahead of time. He sees you before you see him. To be known and to be seen, are arguably two of the greatest needs of a human. Jesus meets them.

If you have never experienced God seeing you and knowing you, ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. A simple prayer, something like, I want to see you, Jesus. Do you really see me and know me? I want to have an encounter with you. Show me whether you see me or not.” Make it your own words, what’s in you. And, wait, and see. Sometimes, God shows up in an instant, sometimes it takes a lot longer for us to see God. Deep in my spirit, I want you to know, the God of the Bible desires for you to know him.

Back to the story, astonishingly Jesus points Nathanael further, to even more. After Nathanael acknowledges Jesus is God, Jesus answers with this:

 

“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)

sunset fig tree

When I have experienced God seeing me, knowing me and loving me exactly the way I am, I am floored. I am overwhelmed with his knowing me. But, essentially, Jesus says even more greatness exists beyond the fact of the almighty God knowing individual humans personally and intimately. There is something even greater!

 

Nathanael, there is something even greater you will see. Jen, there is something even greater you will see. Fill in your name. _____, there is something even greater you will see.

 

And we, as Christ-followers and Spirit-carriers, are promised this. Jesus’ words later in John chapter 14 are,

 

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”

fig tree 2

Even now, as I type, I am challenged by his words-“whoever believes in me” and the person “will also do the works that I do.” Works like Jesus, wow.

 

Faith and works. Belief and action. What am I believing? What I am doing? What are you believing? What are you doing?

 

These questions lead us to other great questions for self-examination. It is good to ask ourselves about belief and action, convictions and trust. What are we truly thinking in these brains of ours? What is in our minds will bleed into our days. Do the color and the texture of our lives reflect Jesus?

 

If we are Christ-followers, Spirit-carriers, these questions can pierce our soul. We are called to live awake and attentive. This is not a call to get paralyzed in what we are not doing. This is not a call to drown in guilt because of our unbelief. Jesus calls us to consider what we are believing and what we are doing. When Jesus encountered people while he was here on earth, he altered their lives. His presence, his words, and his actions changed people. Are we ready to be changed? Do we need an encounter with him?

 

Jesus is powerfully gentle and convincing. Jesus’ call on our lives will affect us and the world.

 

Let us be renewed again and again. Let us be moved into action again and again for others. For his glory. We can’t go change the world until Jesus changes us. And I don’t know if we are willing to be changed, if we don’t know we are seen and known by him. Are you convinced Jesus sees you and knows you? If not, ask him. Are we willing? Are you willing?

 

A Prayer

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A Sampling of my Bible study- Hope Rising, part 3

As a review, I wrote a Bible study last spring for some of the women at my church called Hope Rising. I enjoy creating content to foster people’s intimacy with God. Here is the third sampler from that study/guide. If you are going to read it and use it in your own life, be prepared. Be prepared to work and actively engage with scripture. When I say work, I do not mean strive, I mean engage, dig, discover for yourself. In some Bible studies, everything is handed to you on a spoon. The writers and the producers of the studies do most of the digging for you. The questions are pretty straight forward. These kinds of Bible studies teach us and serve us well in certain seasons. But, at some point, you and I are ready to learn to interact with scripture directly ourselves. This is part of why I designed this study the way I did, to encourage and help you do this. Since Jesus died and rose again, the way for direct communion is opened for each of us.

Side note: the pictures below were taken at the Sea of Galilee at the spot believed to be where our scene for today takes place! The location where Jesus cooks breakfast for his disciples after he rises from the dead.

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Week Four~The Life-Altering Presence of Jesus

DAY FIVE “The Beauty and Hope of Restoration”

SETTING THE SCENE

There are many passages of scripture I love, for sure! But this just may be my very favorite. I am not sure if it is because I have sinned so much and I have needed restoration so badly, or if it is because I just love Peter so much. Maybe it is because this is how John ends his gospel. It was through John’s gospel that my view of Jesus completely transformed. It was early in motherhood when I lost my footing and I was in danger of losing my mind when Jesus opened my eyes over and over again to his amazing, intimate love for me through the book of John!

And this next scene is the finale of John’s gospel. But the finale is really the beginning of the new covenant, the new relationship that humankind can have with their creator. Restoration is here; God made the way back to him possible.

We find the disciples on the water, doing what they did when Jesus had found many of them in the first place. Peter was a fisherman before he left it all to follow and learn from Jesus. We are not sure of the exact timing of this encounter except that it happened in between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, when Jesus is taken up into heaven before their very eyes.

You will see Peter is the comeback kid. But his comeback did not rest in him. It rested in his living, breathing friend and savior, Jesus. They hadn’t had a conversation that we know of since Peter denied Jesus three times after Jesus was arrested. He knew Jesus knew, and he certainly knew of his failure. This is the conversation after an epic failure. What did this reunion hold? How did it play out? I will give you a hint: there might be a few questions. Jesus and his questions, always leading us to good, although sometimes hard, places.

TODAY’S SCENE

Read John 21:1-23, taking it in slowly.

This is the last time we are doing this together, friends. Imagine yourself there. Remember to picture sights, sounds, smells, and all the feels. Who do you relate to? What’s going on with them? Take close notice to the conversations and the reactions. To get a glimpse into Jesus like this. To see his guys up close and personal. Please don’t lose the wonder of getting this insider’s look. Imagine yourself on that beach, sitting, walking, and hanging out with Jesus.

OBSERVE THE SCENE

When and where did the scene take place? Who is in the scene? What did each person do? Observe and describe what you see and hear. Notice. Pay attention. Write down any parts that jump out to you.

DEEPER INTO DEFINITIONS

Remember, Greek words from the original text have been translated into the English words in our bibles. Sometimes the words are difficult to translate, or the meaning of the Greek word isn’t fully explained by the English word. Sometimes a look at the original Greek definitions can shed new light on the meaning of the text for us. Here are a few from today’s scene:

“knew/know” (John 21:12, 15, 16, 17) ~eido The original Greek word eido here means: to see, not the mere act of seeing but the actual perception of some object. It is in the sense of to perceive, be aware of, understand.

“truly love” (John 21:15, 16) ~agapao The original Greek word agapao used by Jesus the first two times he asks Peter here means: to esteem, love, indicating a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something or someone. Agapao is used predominantly for man and woman’s love toward God while phileo is rarely used of it. Agapao indicates a self-sacrificing love.

“love” (John 21:15, 16, 17) ~phileo The original Greek word phileo used by Peter to respond to Jesus and used by Jesus the third time he asked Peter if he loved him here means: to love. It would mean to have the same interests they have. Generally, to have affection for someone. Phileo indicates a brotherly love.

“follow” (John 21:19, 22) ~akoloutheo The original Greek word akoloutheo here means: to attend, to accompany, to go with or follow a teacher.

Considering the meaning of the original Greek words above, what new insights do you have about what happened in the scene?

RELATED SCRIPTURES

Read John 10:11-18, Acts 4:23-33, and 1 Peter 5:5-11 . What light do these scriptures shed on the scene?

As you go about your day or night, consider a phrase from the story that strikes you and ask God to give you insight into the meaning.

 

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DAY SIX

Take your greatest failure or a current struggle and take it to breakfast with Jesus. He is cooking for you. He has some words for you. Our guide for our Israel-Palestine trip retold the story while we sat on this shore. He said it was like Jesus was saying, “I am restoring you, buddy,” to Peter. In what area of failure or disappointment do you need restoration? There is something beautiful Jesus wants to do with those disappointments, and also with you.

My greatest failure is sexual sin from my past. This is why this passage is so important and life changing to me. God went to the cross, and suffered what he didn’t deserve so I could be forgiven and free. He offered it to me and he offers it to you. The whole story of God coming down as a human, Jesus, culminates here with Peter: restoration of a broken relationship. And what is the conduit for Peter’s transformation; for us? It is through love. Jesus asks us, just like he asks Peter. “Do you truly love me more than these?” Just like Peter, we need it repeated, “Do you truly love me?” And again, as simply as possibly, “Do you love me?” What is our greatest need: a love relationship with the savior of the world. Do you have that? Does your faith move beyond reasoning and facts?

This reminds me of when the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus by asking him what the greatest commandment was. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the influential sect of Jews who were known for their traditional, strict observance of God’s law given through Moses plus their own additional laws. Jesus’ response is quoted from Matthew below.

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-39]

When the Pharisees were trying to test him, Jesus turned the test into an opportunity to drop the mic!

Read the scene from yesterday again slowly. Try reading it out loud especially if you have not ever done this before.

GOD AND HUMANITY REVEALED IN THE STORY

Who is God? (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) What does this scene reveal about who God is? What’s true about Jesus here? What is he like?

Ask yourself, “Who am I?” What does the scene reveal about us as humans? What is true about you? What are we like?

Who can you relate to in the story? Why?

HOW THE STORY TRANSFORMS YOU

Ask God to reveal to you your beliefs. Not the ones you know or think you are supposed to believe but what you are believing beneath the surface, maybe even subconsciously.

What do you believe about God right now? What do you believe about yourself right now? What do you believe in relation to the text?

Ask God, “What are the lies I believe about you, God? What are the lies I believe about myself? Is there a truth you are revealing to me through this story about you or me?

Sit and listen to God. Wait. Write down any thoughts coming to mind. (This process may continue on throughout the week or longer)

WHERE THE SCENE TAKES YOU

“For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”   [1 Thessalonians 1:4-6]

This is for us, as well. We can ask for power and deep conviction as we live our lives following after Jesus. Where do you need power from the Holy Spirit? What are your deep convictions? We follow a risen savior who lived with compassion, truth, and grace. And what else do we see here, joy and suffering together because of the Holy Spirit. How is this possible? What does this mean for you with what you have going on in your life?

Lord, we want our faith to be more than words. Give us power, deep conviction, and joy, that we would imitate your early followers and Jesus. Restore us in the needed places.

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Write out a prayer to God in response to what the Spirit is revealing to you. Ask God to do what you cannot, to transform you and make you new…

Is there one thing God is highlighting for you? Is the Spirit leading you to take any action steps or make any changes in your daily life?

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My hope and prayer is that this Bible study sampling helps spark and guide your conversations with Jesus. Our God is a God who spoke and is speaking still. But are we taking some moments in our days to sit and be with him and listen? Do we sometimes not know how to converse with Jesus? May these prompts usher you into real, everyday dialogue. Take what works for you and tailor the process for your personality type. Happy conversing!

A Sampling of my Bible Study-Hope Rising

I wrote a Bible study last year, although it is probably more like a Bible journaling guide than study. It was one of my highlights from the last few years. My dining room table became my study spot. It was literally covered for about 6 weeks with commentaries, papers, books, my computer, and other supplies. It was my happy place. I felt joy and thankfulness every day! Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging as well. And I had help. My friend, Jennifer, cheered me on, edited, and formatted to help create a version that could be shared with people at our church! I told her it was like she was an angel from heaven. Seriously, I still am overwhelmed by her work and generosity today!

It is called Hope Rising and follows Jesus’ last days on earth, his death, his resurrection and the days following his resurrection. It is about the intersection of suffering and hope. Here is a snippet from the letter at the beginning.

“This study contains tools, encouragement, and prompts to awaken the dialogue between you and God. The magic and goodness does not lie within these pages. The magic and goodness lies between you and the creator of the universe who wants to speak to you and reveal himself to you in ways that will both surprise and challenge you.”

I was prompted by both boredom and inspiration today to share it here for those who desire something to help guide and stir conversations with God these days around Easter.

So, we are jumping in the middle. Grab a Bible and a notebook. Here is a sampling…..

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DAY FIVE

SETTING THE SCENE

In the last few days we have witnessed the sacrifice of true love. The deepest love sacrifices something dear to oneself for the benefit of another. In our first scene, we saw Mary and her jar—a sacrifice risking looks and judgement from others, extending to her finances, all in the service of Jesus. Then, in the second scene, we saw Jesus using constraint and showing compassion toward his disciple-turned-traitor and his cohorts, unlike the natural reaction of his other disciples. Instead, as pictured in Isaiah 50:7, Jesus sets his face like a flint toward where he knew he had to go and sacrificed his heart and emotions. Soon this sacrifice would extend to his physical body.

It is hard for us 21st century Western humans to grasp the significance of a foot washing. If you happen to hate feet you may more fully grasp it. What can we compare it to? A valet. A pedicure. A foot doctor’s examination. A dirty diaper change. A hotel cleaning service. Maybe we need to watch Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs TV show to help get the idea.

All I know is that the job of washing feet was normally reserved for the lowliest of servants. Even peers didn’t usually wash one another’s feet. For Jesus, their teacher and leader, to even suggest washing their feet was a shock. This is pure role reversal. It made no sense. Keep in mind, in first century Palestine, most wore sandals. Their feet would have been pretty dirty from walking the dusty roads amidst the people and animals. When Jesus “took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” he took on the dress of a menial slave.

Even though the dots are not all connected here, this scene is rich in symbolism of where the Old Testament law points, and what is about to happen next. The first two chapters of 1 John, written by the same author as this scene, speak similarly of the ongoing need for cleansing from our sins; how we fall short of perfection. But Jesus stooped down to serve and give of his whole life so we could be free… clean… forgiven.

TODAY’S SCENE

Read John 13:1-20, taking it in slowly.

Remember, one of our goals is intimacy with Jesus—to know him, to share life with him. The men and women who lived with Jesus and experienced these stories firsthand wanted us to know him, too. (1 John 1:1-4) It is their joy for us to take part with Jesus and experience his love and serving. See him bending to wash your feet and serve you today.

OBSERVE THE SCENE

When and where did the scene take place? Who is in the scene? What did each person do? Observe and describe what you see and hear. Notice. Pay attention. Write down any parts that jump out to you.

DEEPER INTO DEFINITIONS

Remembering from previous scenes, learning the Greek definitions of words from the original text that have been translated into the English words in our bibles can shed new light on the text for us. Here are a few from today’s scene:

“loved” (John 13:1) ~ agapao The original Greek word agapao means: to esteem; love, indicating a direction of the will and finding joy in something or someone.

“the full extent of” (John 13:1) ~ telos The original Greek word telow means: an end; term; termination; completion. Particularly, only in respect to time. More accurately stated, “he loved them unto the end.”

“servant” (John 13:16) ~ doulos The original Greek word doulos means: a slave; one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of another.

Considering the meaning of the original Greek words above, what new insights do you have about what happened in the scene?

RELATED SCRIPTURES

Read Philippians 2:5-11 and Psalm 51:1-7. 

What light do these scriptures shed on the scene?

As you go about your day or night, consider a phrase from the story that strikes you and ask God to give you insight into the meaning.

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DAY SIX

I hope you are seeing something new and refreshing about Jesus. When I really started to observe carefully what he did and said—how he asked questions, pushed back, challenged, affirmed—I grew so deeply in love with him. A key to the mental shift from seeing the Bible as a far off story not related to our lives today, to an interactive and applicable story for you today, is to continue to insert yourself into it. Of course, this needs to be done thoughtfully and wisely. For example, you can’t always just flip to a page and do what is stated there, or you might find yourself walking around naked like Isaiah, or marrying your cousin, like Isaac. The Bible is filled with surprising, weird situations pointing to cultural differences that are sometimes hard to understand. But we can get to know God more as he reveals his character to us through these stories. And as we get to truly see and get to know Jesus, some things become more clear along the way. What will we become more aware of today?

Read the scene from yesterday again slowly. Try reading it out loud especially if you have not ever done this before.

GOD AND HUMANITY REVEALED IN THE STORY

Who is God? (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) What does this scene reveal about who God is? What’s true about Jesus here? What is he like?

Ask yourself, “Who am I?” What does the scene reveal about us as humans? What is true about you? What are we like?

Who can you relate to in the story? Why?

HOW THE STORY TRANSFORMS YOU

Ask God to reveal to you your beliefs. Not the ones you know or think you are supposed to believe but what you are believing beneath the surface, maybe even subconsciously.

What do you believe about God right now? What do you believe about yourself right now? What do you believe in relation to the text?

Ask God, “What are the lies I believe about you, God? What are the lies I believe about myself? Is there a truth you are revealing to me through this story about you or me?”

Sit and listen to God. Wait. Write down any thoughts coming to mind. (This process may continue on throughout the week or longer)

WHERE THE SCENE TAKES YOU

“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

[2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NLT]

Who changes us? Who can make us more like God, in character and action? It is the Lord, God himself, who changes us. We have this hope of being made more and more like him. This is truly amazing! I don’t know about you, but I need some changing! Right now, I could rattle off a list of what I would like him to change in me. Let’s continue to enter into this sometimes difficult but amazing process.

Write out a prayer to God in response to what the Spirit is revealing to you. Ask God to do what you cannot, to transform you and make you new…

Is there one thing God is highlighting for you? Is the Spirit leading you to take any action steps or make any changes in your daily life?

 

 

I hope you enjoyed this sampling. I plan on sharing two more excerpts in the next few days. More than anything I hope these words and prompts help create space for the Father, Jesus and Spirit to speak and work in your life.

When the End is the Beginning

At my core I am a dreamer. I love possibility. I am most comfortable in the world of ideas. Ask me to brainstorm with you and I most definitely will say yes. Circling round. Diving deep. Looking ahead. Finding all the angles. I’m all about it.

With others, yes. With an organization, yes. With a church, yes. With a ministry, you bet.

Brainstorm, dream, repeat.

Personal Dream Session

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In my personal life and world my mind dreams up possibilities at every turn. I am currently dreaming right now about a paid job, a potential writing career and going to seminary. Man, that was difficult to write down! Writing it in black and white moves toward embracing and pursuing without the promise these things will come true.

In the past I have dreamt about love relationships, roles, jobs, children, social circles, sports, behavioral standards (i know, weird, right?) and events. Pictures unfold in our minds, details are sketched and feelings rise. What happens when a dream comes true? Euphoria. Enjoyment. Satisfaction.

But then, something can happen, at least for me.

Dreams come to an end, are not fulfilled or are not fulfilling in the way we thought they’d be. The person is not as loving and honorable as we thought. The relationship becomes messy, hurt runs deep. The thing is not quite what it was cracked up to be. The good feelings lose their potency. The cherished aspiration falls short. The satisfaction from a reached ambition fades away. Things thought of as ideal do not match up to the hype.

I don’t know if you are a dreamer. I don’t know if you cherish ideas for your future. Maybe you have had one too many dreams die. I don’t know where you stand in relationship to dreaming about your life and future.

But what I know in the deepest part of me is: at the end of dreams, there is an invitation to get to know God. What we think is the end could actually be a beginning.

Failure to Execute and Fulfill

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My biggest aspirations as a young woman were to become a wife and a mother. (The fact these were my biggest, and really the only ones, is a topic for another day!) The days and months in which it became apparent marriage and motherhood were not all I had originally imagined felt like a hot air balloon falling to the ground. The dream lost its air, with its allure and its perceived expectations.

I was exhausted more often than not. I was mean every day at some point for a long stretch of time. I could not keep up with all the house things: laundry, groceries, cleaning, straightening, and the list goes on. All it took to keep up with my kids and my house was too much for me. They wore me down. They beat me. Beat me, as in, they won, not physically beat me, just to be clear! Most nights I was not “in the mood” for my husband, if you get my drift. It was 4 kids, 5 and under in those days. Although I do believe I was on my knees crying out to God even before #4 came along.

I vividly remember, looking out my kitchen window, which sat above the sink, toward our shared driveway with the decline, crying, not believing I could make it another day.

Two songs on repeat which helped me through this desperation, resonated with my soul. Mystery and Come for Me by Charlie Hall~

“Sweet Jesus Christ my sanity, sweet Jesus Christ my clarity. Bread of heaven broken for me. Cup of salvation held up to drink. Jesus the mystery.”               -Charlie Hall, Mystery

“And you’ll come for me, no more pain-peace. No more fear-release. Just lost and consumed with my glorious king. Jesus today I am tired. And I need your music to come and inspire. And I’d give myself to be refined in this fire. But Jesus today I’m so tired.”                                                                                                                                               -Charlie Hall, Come for me

It was survival mode to say the least. I was not the mom and wife I imagined I would be. Now please don’t get me wrong. There were good moments, amazing moments, laughter, love and fun mixed in but it was more difficult than I ever dreamed. I was more limited and full of flaws than I realized when the dream began.

When the End is Really a Beginning

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But it turned out to be the beginning of a deeper relationship with God. Through those dreams crashing, a new way opened up between the debris on the ground. God invited me, through a multitude of voices, into a deeper relationship than I had previously known.

Where does it feel like the end of the rainbow for you, with no pot of gold? Who has failed you? How have you failed? Has a dream died? What ideal hasn’t come through to deliver the goods? What aspiration or ambition, while reached, still leaves more to be desired?

God is there. Waiting. To show you more. To walk you into rooms where it is impossible to behold everything in one gaze. It will take more than a lifetime to reach the end of all inside.

When other people, roles, dreams let us down, God slowly moves toward us. The breadth and depth of his love, goodness, wisdom, and grace are ready to flow into the dry, cracked breaks in our life and heart.

As I recovered from these broken dreams, the words of Deuteronomy, a book of the Bible in the Old Testament, began to fly off the page, in the middle of my desperate pleas, and into my heart and spirit in real life color~

“For the Lord is your life.”      -Deuteronomy 30:20

“They are not just idle words for you-they are your very* life.”       -Deuteronomy 32:47

(*I added that word. Every time I quote that verse the word “very” is there in my head. I guess I needed some emphasis.)

My dream wasn’t my life. Being a wife and mother wasn’t my life. I began to breathe in new ways, with new power and confidence as I learned to lean into God for satisfaction and fulfillment. The dream of God, his creative power, his transforming forgiveness, and his illuminating honor outshone my husband, my children, and my own effort in it all. My soul began to spill out grace and love, overflowing because it’s what God, through the Spirit, does. He gives us more than enough. When the image of what I thought it was going to be like as a wife and a mother came crashing down, God literally became my life.

A Prayer

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Might 2019 be the Year to Write in a Notebook?

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I looked back this past week. These notebooks date from 2005-early 2010. They are filled with prayers and study notes, questions and declarations, heartache and celebration. They are sacred to me, a record of a journey. They represent people I love and dreams I have. If you have never written in a notebook, might this year be the year to try? I like the regular old, spiral notebook, kind. If you are more like me, you will not want a strict guide or formula. If you are not like me, you may want a guide.

Something you could try:

  1. Answer the question- What do you want? Write it down, do not consider the right answer. Write what is in you, no matter what it is.
  2. Answer the question- What do you need? Again, leave what you think you should write at the door.
  3. Ask God if he has anything to say to you about these things. God, what do you have to say about this? Ask God to bring scripture to mind. If a certain word comes to mind, do a concordance search of that word. There are many Bible apps and resources to help. One I like is Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/search.cfm Type in your word. Pick a Bible translation. Try NLT, New Living Translation, if you need a suggestion. Click the search button. Scan the verses until one strikes you. Open up your Bible and read the whole section around it. Ask God to give you insight and truth. Ask God to meet you right where you are.
  4. Ask him all the questions that come.
  5. Write down anything God shows you.

God is so full of grace and love. God is alive and speaks today. Expect it. Warning: do not try to wrap everything up with a bow. Leave it wherever it is when you are done for that day. Sometimes God answers a question I write down years later. Continue to expect God to speak and show you things when you are doing all your normal tasks and work in your days. Your relationship with God is an on-going, living, amazing thing. I pray 2019 leads you further into God’s love and presence. A notebook might be one of the tools God uses.

 

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If you have a prompt or way you use a notebook, I would love to hear. It may be just the thing someone else needs to hear as well. Leave your ideas in the comments.