Where it takes me

I have turned the last page on The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton.  It was wonderful.  I was absorbed in the concepts and thoughts, the suggestions and ideas.  I found myself really contemplating (haha) the text and ideas at hand and it was good for me.  I’ve always been drawn to more of an inner spiritual journey and this just kind of affirmed and pushed and pulled me in all kinds of ways.

Many who follow the Christian Mystic path seem to write about God in terms of darkness instead of light. It’s the perfect imagery for me. Light is everywhere. It lights our days, our nights and affects us in ways we cannot fully comprehend. It doesn’t even need to be close. The sun is millions of miles from earth, warming and brightening our days. Light allows you to exist in the presence of something at a distance. One doesn’t need to draw close to see.

Darkness is another story.  With no light shining for you, the path is forged through feeling and persistence. Careful steps are required and one must really be dedicated to getting where they need to go if they cannot see where it is they are going.  Travelling in the dark requires preparation, commitment and guts. It’s not for the faint of heart.

I have found in my own journey that the more I study and seek, the dimmer the light gets. I find myself having to work harder, reflect longer and really sink into my faith and wrestle with what I believe.  The more I study, the more I want to know. The more I know, the more I realize I really know nothing.  I think when we begin the light is strong and full to guide us towards God but the closer we get, the more focused the light seems to become.

I’m quite happy to acknowledge that I myself am no guru or mystical genius. I’m but one woman questioning, wrestling with and fighting for her faith. I never want to accept blindly. Instead I wish to walk ahead into the murky darkness with a determination to find God on the other side. As I journey I find myself drawn into the teaching of these mystics who remind us that the journey is not easy, the destination is not self-fulfillment and happiness, but the effort is oh so worth it.

As of late I find myself wondering if the loss of our mystical side in the community as a whole is perhaps one of the reasons we find ourselves struggling in the church these days. Does our need to keep things light and bright rob us of our chance to really meet with God and hear where it is we should go. There are no easy answers, only questions it seems. For now I will continue on my own journey and see where it takes me.

This week I am reading Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assissi by Richard Rohr

52 weeks – 52 books

Since the process of assessment and therapy for X began I’ve found myself floating further and further away from myself as my thoughts were consumed with the ‘A’ word and all that goes with it.  Autism can be all encompassing.  Pair it with breastfeeding and a mother is sure to lose herself entirely to obligations, charting, therapeutic methods and growth spurts.  Part of this is normal when you have a new baby. Everything is upside down while you struggle with the new normal.  The rhythm of life changes and you need to learn new dance steps to stay in time.

Lately I haven’t been dancing much at all. I’ve been running full tilt and that has to stop. My mind has not been clear.  Fatigue hit my body hard. I knew that something had to give and I needed to take a little time for myself so I bought a book, sat down with my Kindle and began to read. I read all the time so this wasn’t an unusual action for those around me but lately the books I’ve chosen have been soft, fluffy things to keep my spirits up. Last week though I went another way and purchased Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Something happened in the reading of this book. It was as if a light switched on inside me which had been off for months. Suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with thoughts and ideas of my own. I was reflecting and probing areas I’d long since neglected. It was wonderful. When I turned the last page yesterday I found myself a little sad that it was over.  Over the span of the evening I found myself flirting with an idea. I thought it might be fun to challenge myself to read 52 books this year. Not 52 books in general. I could definitely read that over the course of a year but 52 books to challenge the heart and mind. Books that would encourage me to think and discern.  Books that require me to actively engage instead of be passively entertained.

I think one book a week is doable.  I have no desire to entirely abandon entertainment reading or the latest episode of Castle and I think this will allow me to incorporate it all.  Some grace will be allowed.  If a book is particularly gruelling or ridiculously long I may evaluate the length of time in which I must have it finished but for the most part I expect a book a week is possible.  If you have any suggestions for books you think I simply must read please leave them in the comment section.  I have 50 more books to choose and would love to discover what has impacted you in your spiritual journey.

This week I am reading The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation by Thomas Merton.  

Day two of the Lent Project: Trusting in God’s Promise

Today was a hard day for my boy. His morning began at 5:20am and he’s feeling it. This week has been a week of amazing breakthroughs and accomplishments for him which I think has left him a little drained and excited. We went out this morning to visit some of his little friends and he was just not himself. He sat on my lap and then finally we had to leave as he was tired, cranky and overwhelmed.

As a little valentine treat for him I thought I would take him to the mall for lunch. He finds the mall fascinating as there are elevators and corridors he likes to explore. We almost always know someone at the mall to run into and he likes to walk and see if anything has changed. While we were there I picked up some face cream that I’m running low on. When we got home I unpacked them and noticed something quite intriguing.  On the outside of each package there were promises. One said it would plump up fine lines. Another said it would reduce circles and puffs. These creams come with promises for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow where my skin will be perfect and line free.

Creams

Abram, or Abraham as we more commonly know him was given promises for a better tomorrow in our reading for the Lent Project today.  God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and that they would come from the son he and his wife would bear.  An unlikely scenario for two older people and something that most of us would have a hard time believing if it were told to us. Yet Abram believed God when God said he would be his shield and reward. Abram knew that God would follow through on his promises.

Promises for a better tomorrow coming from God are welcome and wondrous but how often do we believe them? I believe in God of course.  I believe that God can do anything, yet sometimes I find myself doubting. I don’t doubt God’s abilities, I doubt that God will get involved. Whether it’s self doubt or cynicism I’m not sure, but I find myself slipping into doubt at times when I know I should be faithful. Why is it that I can buy creams from a counter and have hope that they will do what they promise and not always have that same hope in God?

I should say I’m a relatively hopefully person. Some might say I’m naively optimistic when it comes to the church’s future and I tend believe that good things will happen in the end. I do believe in God’s promise and I love that God is invested in people. Sometimes though, if I’m absolutely honest it’s easier for me to believe Clinique than it is to believe God. It has nothing to do with who is more trustworthy, obviously God wins that challenge. If Clinique’s promises don’t pan out I’m not surprised, I don’t really expect them to. But God’s promises are so much better than a wrinkle cure and I sometimes I can’t imagine that what God says is possible. It just seems so unlikely, so very good to be true.

God’s promises are so very good because God is good. Great things are possible in God not just for others but for me too and I need to start believing that. I think in some ways it’s easier to tell others about God’s goodness than it is to accept it for yourself. It’s time for me to be bold like Abram.  I need to accept that what God promises, God will do.

I have decided today to believe God. I’m choosing to trust that God will do what he says he will do, even if it seems impossible to me.
What about you?

 

Day one of the Lent Project

I feel like such a dork.

Today at a meeting with people I respect and admire I actually used sound effects when I couldn’t express in words what I was thinking. Talk about embarrassing. I could’ve died. I managed to trip over a few words before it ended and left thinking ‘Why am I not more eloquent?’ How I wish it was different. I wish I could take the thoughts in my head and have them pour forth in poetic fashion.  Alas it is not to be.

After I left the meeting I went to the grocery store and thought about how stupid I was and then wondered why God couldn’t have made me differently.  As I stood in front of the chocolate almond milk I thought about the ten pounds I’d like to lose and how if I ever wrote a book I’d have to have head shots taken by someone who knew how to take a good picture so I didn’t look super strange and that’s when it hit me.  This morning’s reading from the Lent project tells us that God was pleased with what he created and in another study I’m doing I read Psalm 139 which tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God’s works are wonderful.  I sure wasn’t believing that.

I am Becky.  I’m a dork who often lacks the words necessary to really say what I want to say but I have passion inside and I want good things for those I love, for the Church I am a part of and for this world in which we live.  I like Star Trek and Hello Kitty.  I dance in my kitchen wildly with my three year old son. I have been known to walk down an aisle in the grocery store I don’t need to be on to avoid someone I sort of know when I don’t know what to say. God created me this way for a reason. Even when I hate the most introverted, dorky parts of myself, God loves them.

I may be a dork but God loves me and made me this way. Realizing that today was a good thing I think.

The yeast…

I’ve been experimenting with bread making this week.  It’s not as exciting as you think.  My husband went into our back room and dug out my bread machine so I only have to layer everything in a precise way and press a button.  It’s pretty easy, or so you would think.  Here is my first attempt.

failed bread
It looks awful, right?  It was even worse inside.  Uncooked and mushy, we couldn’t even make croutons out of this loaf.  What went wrong?  Lots of things I believe.  The first of which was the temperature of the liquid when it connected with the yeast.  You don’t want boiling hot and you definitely don’t want cold.  I think my liquid was too cold.  I also think the recipe I used didn’t call for enough liquid so the bread didn’t mix in the machine correctly.  Nevertheless I persevered and look what happened.

Bread again

This loaf worked.  I made sure that the water was exactly the right temperature.  I watched it like a hawk to ensure that the moisture level was correct and then I ate it smothered in jam.  It was definitely worth the effort and I realized something very important. Yeast is a little picky but when added at the right time, to the right mix amazing things can happen.

Because of my failures and final success with yeast, I started to think about Jesus and what he says about yeast.  Having a better understanding of how yeast works and the multitude of ways it can fail, I realized something important. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that is worked into flour. When yeast is worked in and the right setting is there, amazing things can happen.  If however the setting is wrong, there’s nothing the yeast can do and ultimately the bread will fail.  It would seem to me that as God’s people we should be trying to keep ourselves open and ready for the spirit to move within us, to be the yeast in our lives and help us expand and grow.

I think ultimately we would say we want this but it’s scary to contemplate. When you look at bread, when you look at what yeast can do, how it changes and shapes the dough, that kind of change is frightening. Do we really want to double in love, in service, in devotion and commitment?  Do we want our churches to double in love, in service, in devotion, and commitment?  I think if they did amazing things could happen but our lives and church and worship would look very different from how they do today.

Are we ready to open ourselves up and prepare ourselves to do God’s work in the world or are we frightened of what that means?  Do you think you’re ready for yeast to be added to the mix?

 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  Matthew 13:33 NIV 

Even Lions fans have hope.

Life in 2013 has been quiet thus far.  I made two batches of potatoes for dinner tonight {one with chives, the other with cheese} and have settled in for some much needed coffee after a late night watching the ball drop and trying to encourage my son to stay in bed.  I adore coffee and it’s magical energy producing powers which enable me to function. I’m grateful to those who grow the beans which keep me going.

This last week was wonderful. We spent time together as a family, I’m finally feeling better after a nasty bout with a chest infection and I didn’t go to church. Where did I go instead you might ask? I went to the Lions game. My Mom and Dad got all of us tickets and I made the trek down to Ford Field.

photo (6) 2
It was awesome. I love football and the game was so much more fun to watch in person. We settled in early and I enjoyed some delicious food while watching the practice on the field. As I sat there with my Sloppy Jane in one hand, and a giant drink in the other I turned to my brother and said ‘this is some good church, isn’t it?’. He laughed and shook his head but seriously there were some things I noticed at the stadium that really struck me as a church goer and a minister.

First, the football crowd has a much better community spirit than most of the churches I have been to. The people who were season ticket holders knew each other well. They were hugging and calling out New Years greetings to one another as they found their seats. They also extended that friendliness to us. People were turning around during the game and chatting with one another. The man sitting right in front of us was asking my husband questions and needling my brother {who’s a Bears fan} and there was no hesitation. The warmth and friendliness of the people was rather shocking and quite pleasant. As I sat there I wondered why those of us in the church aren’t more like this. Why we don’t turn around and chat with one another more? Why we don’t extend honest, open affection to those who are visitors? It’s something we should really be working on.

Second, there was excitement in that room. I know we were there to watch a game so that’s expected but I found myself wondering where the excitement went for worship. I often {though not always} find that as I lead worship I am much more excited about it than those who are attending the service. It seems at times as if we’ve sunk into a routine and have lost the thrill for what is is we do. We forget that worship is a celebration and a time to really connect with God. There should be moments of quiet and reflection but also there should be joy and dancing.  I think we should look for ways to make church interesting and enjoyable for people.

Last but definitely not least was the fact that people gathered together for a common purpose and really connected because of it. This was a community of people who even while watching their team go down in defeat after one of the worst seasons imaginable didn’t let that get them down. They were looking towards the future and as we left I said and heard others say, there’s always next year. Hope is something we all need and it seems to me that those of us in the church who in fact have reason to hope have lost our faith. We are struggling and have forgotten about the one who saves and redeems. We’ve lost sight that there is a future possible if we just work towards it. Too many of us are wallowing in our own worries to look into the future and plan for a different season, a different way of doing things. There was hope in that stadium even while the season ended. As a church we need to find hope once more.

It is my hope this year that we move in a positive direction. That we start to live out our faith in community and hope. That we develop an excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel once more. That we begin to believe that a future is possible. If Lions fans believe that a future is possible surely we as believers in the hope and truth Jesus offers can start to see that as a possibility too. It’s time for us to move on out of this negative season in the church and begin preparing for the next stage, the next step. We need to move forwards into tomorrow.

His peace he leaves with us.

Candle

I remember sitting around campfires with my Dad when I was younger. Together we would sing in the darkness and the light from the fire would keep us warm and feeling safe. One of my favorite songs he taught me resonates inside me today. I remember it well. “His peace he gives to us. His peace he leaves with us. Not for us alone but that we might give it again to all men.” I have no idea who wrote this song {and Google doesn’t either for that matter} but whoever it was has my thanks.  This verse is a constant reminder to me of John 14:27 and Jesus’ assurance that he offers peace and a reminder that we should not be afraid.

It’s hard not to be afraid, isn’t it? Even with Jesus’ reminder that we don’t need to be afraid there are days when this world is a dark, lonely place. Days when all we see on the television is devastation and despair. When we discover that humanity can do horrible things. When we learn of children and adults lost in a dreadful shooting.  How can we possibly wrap our heads around it? Our hearts break for the people involved and the temptation is there for us to withdraw and hide, to sneak away from the world which hurts so many.

In this temptation I am again drawn back into John. His peace he gives to us…not for us alone but that we might give it again to all men. We are called to share his peace and bring light back into the world around us. Matthew 5: 14-16 puts it another way “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (The Message).  

As followers of Christ we are called into open lives, lives which allow the light of God to shine through. We are called to live in love, for love, spilling love out to others as we go. We’re to shine so that others may see God in us and isn’t that what the world needs right now? A light, a shining light to direct them to the ultimate comfort giver. This world needs people willing to fight for things like peace and love. As we sit here in Advent, waiting for answers that might never come we must help bring peace and security into this world. As we wait in Advent hoping for a champion to save us from ourselves, we must remember Jesus came to us as a baby, as a child who would show us what it was to truly live life. As we sit together waiting, wondering we must live as he showed us, unafraid to share his peace and light, unafraid to reach out into the world with love and hope.

Beginning now let’s live the life he taught us to live, boldly sharing his light and peace with those around us.  We should pray for the the families in Connecticut and for those around the world who have experienced darkness and terror but let’s not stop there. Together we will funnel our energy into good, harnessing the love we’ve been given and then spill it out into the world.  We will reach out to those we know, to those who are hurting in our own communities.  We will discover ways to serve and make a difference in this world. In times like these we cannot hide, we must push forth and live completely in this world.  We must now find a way to be the change that is needed, to make this world safer and provide hope for those who feel hopeless.  Let’s be the light this world needs.  Let’s shine together and see how the darkness lifts.

An Open Letter to Rod Stewart.

Bethlehem Nativity
Dear Mr. Stewart,

I just have to open this letter by saying I am a huge fan of your work. In particular I’ve adored ‘the Great American Songbook’ series. As a result I found myself delighted when I discovered you had released a Christmas Album this year. I immediately downloaded it from iTunes and added it to my Christmas playlist. I was however a little surprised by the song ‘Red Suited Superman’. It seemed very out of the ordinary for a Christmas song. Catchy but definitely not a usual Christmas number.

I think what really struck me about this particular song was the sentiment it carried regarding Santa. It seems to me that the song lifts Santa from a fun part of Christmas to a superhero savior figure. Throughout the song there seems to be a belief that Santa can bring joy, peace, love and miracles. Now I love Santa as much as the next person but this seems to me to be a bit of a stretch. Since I’ve known of Santa he’s been the bringer of stuff at Christmas not the Savior. Year after year kids write their lists and send them to Santa for the things that they desire at Christmas. Santa works very hard all year with his elves making tons of toys and then brings them around the world to kids. Santa brings joy that is temporary and wonderful, I won’t deny that but it is temporary. Santa’s joy is not everlasting. He does not impact people in permanent or life changing ways. If the things Santa brought were truly fulfilling would the malls be full on Boxing Day with bargain hunters?  Things don’t satisfy, as people we need something more.

I’m certain you’re aware of this but the origins of Christmas lay in Jesus. It was a feast day to celebrate Christ’s entrance in the world. Christmas is about the moment God entered the world to be with us and offer us hope. It was a day of miracles, joy and overflowing love. Jesus brought us the gift of God’s presence and new possibilities. I think this is where the true miracle of Christmas lies.  It lies in the knowledge that God lived with us, loved us and showed us what it meant to bring peace into the world. Jesus’ life shows us the radiant joy one can find when they live for others and not things. He showed us what it is to spill love into the world and how great an impact one can have on a community by simple caring enough to pay attention. In Jesus we see what it is to truly live a wonderful life and at Christmas we celebrate his entrance into our world.

On Christmas Day in my home we will hear once more the story of Jesus and Santa will have undoubtedly paid a visit. We enjoy the day and all it’s parts but we know the true meaning behind it. Christmas music will be playing and your album will be part of my playlist as I do enjoy it. I would just like to ask one favor. Would you think, really think about who the superman of the story really is? A real superman is someone who changes lives. It seems to me there’s only one person at Christmas who does that.

Merry Christmas,

Becky

Are we ready for God-with-us?

 

When I look at the nativity scenes scattered around my house and throughout the stores I wonder at the tidiness of it all. It seems too serene, too perfect. Something is not quite right. The nativity that speaks to me isn’t the glass set I brought home from Mexico or even the one I made years ago with my grandmother. The one I resonate with most this year is the Little People nativity set my son has.  I bought it two years ago so he could grow with it and learn hands on who each person was in the Christmas story. I wanted him to see Jesus, to touch him. I wanted him to learn who the wise men were without me telling him to keep his hands off.

As you can imagine a three year old playing with his very own nativity is quite a sight. After a session of play it looks as though a nuclear bomb has exploded in the quiet town of Bethlehem. Animals lay strewn across the floor. Mary and Joseph get mixed up in a pile with wise men and the innkeeper. I’ve even seen the Angel sleeping off the effects of a long night of celebration in the inn on a bed. It’s a mess, a beautiful wonderful mess. My son is learning and discovering what this story is and what Christmas is really about.

It seems so fitting to me. Jesus enters the world and chaos ensues. God-with-us appears to turn everything on it’s head. And it does, doesn’t it? God-with-us pushes and tests, pokes and prods. God-with-us forces us outside of that which is comfortable. It means that God is with us. The God of great expectation is with us expecting things, accepting no mailed in answers. Always wanting more and pushing us to become who we were created to be.

In truth I prefer the messy version of events. The version that’s never talked about where the carpenter becomes a midwife and he panics because the baby is coming and once a baby starts to come, there’s no stopping it. The one where the baby comes out crying and his teenage mother isn’t quite sure what to do so she begins a never ending stream of attempting to feed, checking his diaper and holding him tight to her chest. The story where the young couple with a new baby are greeted by shepherds covered in dirt who want a glimpse of their new, finally sleeping child. Imagine the panic this young couple might’ve faced. Entering a town with no room only to end up delivering in a stable. It’s beautiful and messy.

As a people we often speak about wanting a revival or wanting God’s spirit to stir us in some fashion but I have to ask the question, do we really mean it? Because meaning it invites chaos and confusion into the mix.  Meaning it means God might enter in his way, not ours. Meaning it requires surrendering control to his plan, not ours. From the surface the nativity scene looks fresh and clean but in reality the situation was anything but.

In reality we find Jesus entering the world in a spectacularly messy way. In a stable, with no attendants and people with no real idea of what to do. There were no midwives or doctors. There was nothing sanitary or orderly about it. In the end this entrance helped to set up who he was to become. A man of the people who loved and served even the least of them. A man who challenged and changed the status quo. Who loved so fully that he gave up his life for the sake of all.

To invoke the spirit of God is to invite in that which is messy and say yes to chaos. To invite God in sets us up for a great change and unexpected outcomes. Do we really want God-with-us?

I know I do. What about you?

Everything changed.

When Jesus arrived, everything changed. Nothing remained as it was and the world was flipped upside down. Love entered our midst and we discovered that God would do anything necessary to be with us. Doubt remained though among the people.  Not everyone could see the gift that was offered. They weren’t looking forward, they were looking back. Back to the time when life was comfortable and they knew what to expect. No one expected a baby. No one expected that baby to grow to be a teacher who broke rules and put people first. They wanted something familiar, something they knew.

I was listening to a song by Eddie Kirkland this week and a verse really resonated with me “The future was bright and clear she planned for a wedding day.  Her daddy would hold back tears giving her hand away.  But now all her hope and fear in a cradle lay ’cause a baby came and everything changed.”   When God enters your life, everything changes.  Mary would not have expected her life to turn out as it did yet she followed.  So many people throughout the history of God’s people had to make difficult choices that forced them to leave their dreams behind.  Abraham left his life behind for a new land. Moses chose to go against the life he’d always known and led people into the desert.  David stood up to a giant and became a king.  So many others were asked to make a choice and their lives were changed.

A single choice can change the direction of your life.  Three years ago my life changed.  My plans for ministry and my family no longer mattered and I had to make a choice regarding what I would do.  My son needed some extra care so I chose to stay home and my whole life changed.  As I’ve watched him grow, I’ve grown.  I’ve had time to write, to dream, to vision for the future.  I’ve discovered that God is never finished with you and sometimes when you make a choice, everything changes.  Sometimes your plans for the future aren’t actually the future you’re meant to have.

A single choice can change the direction of your life.
A single choice can change the direction of an organization.
A single choice can change the world.

It can be tempting to look back and wonder what might’ve been had things been different.  It’s common to wish that things didn’t have to change, that pain and uncertainty wasn’t part of the equation.  It’s normal but it doesn’t change the fact that life is uncertain. The future isn’t always clear and that’s okay. We may not know where we are going but if we have faith, God will go with us and lead us to a new future. We just need to surrender our control and walk boldly into an uncertain future.  If we let go of what we know we might find a new future filled with more promise than we thought possible.  God is looking to enter our midst but we have to allow him to enter.

If we let God in everything will change.  Are we ready for that?
Are we ready for everything to change?