Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?

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I Like Big Buts…

 

Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The words of this Psalm seem so tender to me.  I can think of months… years… when my prayers sounded just like this.  Hard times find us all.  And when we are in the midst of them, it seems as if God is so very far away, that he has forgotten us.  Psalms of Lament (like Psalm 13) make up almost 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible.  Clearly, God wants us to know that it is ok to come to Him with our pain.  To cry out in the midst of the situation, to bemoan the hard place you have found yourself in.

I love that we serve a God that gives us permission to be in pain. I love that we serve a God big enough to handle our heartbreak, our fears, even our selfish concerns.  I love that in the Psalms, He models for us what it looks like to lay yourself out before God, exactly how you are.  No artifice, no pretending.

However, in the times I have spent in this place, I have noticed that I can become myopic.  We get so stuck on our story and our situation that we lose the greater picture.  Our prayers become smaller, and, eventually, lose focus on God and become completely focused on ourselves.

It is in this, too, that the Psalms of Lament can be our example.  Because, in their formula, there is always a common thread…

a big BUT.

But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.  

Remember.  The Psalmist is still in the midst of the pain.  There is no rescue in sight.  And still, the ‘but’ remains.  In the midst of the darkness, he is affirming what he knows to be true.  That we serve a powerful God.  One who loves us with unfailing love.  He celebrates a rescue that seems far away and still incomplete.  He chooses to sing of the Lord’s goodness in the midst of the darkness.

That’s one pretty big but.

What is the difference between a lament and a complaint?

That is a question that was posed in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago.  And, truly, I think that the primary difference is the presence of a but.  We can lament, while still affirming God’s sovereignty.  We can mourn, while still acknowledging a Plan that is at work.

When we complain, we forget to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness, and we get lost in our own pain.  We are limited by our own perspective. Our story ceases to be The Story, but becomes our own story, smaller, diminished.  We don’t choose to believe in the redemption that is coming, both for us as individuals, but also us as a People of God.

Buts are important.  Crucial even.

 

 I like big buts.  And I cannot lie.

My Dark Secret Story

As Christians, we have this whole set of practices embedded in our culture that seem pretty bizarrstorye if we step back and look at them.  Things like… fake cussing.  “Holy Toledo,”  “Mother of Pearl,” “No effing way,” and, worst of all, “Bless Her Heart.”

We sing in groups.  In what other area of your life to adults get together once a week and sing?  Don’t get me wrong- I love it, but, outside the church (and community chorus) it’s not a normal activity.

Then there are the essential parts of our faith.  Things sacred and beautiful to us, but probably seem bizarre to outsiders.  Baptism (dumping cold water on babies).  Communion (eating bread and juice and talking about eating the Body and Blood of Christ).  Confession (telling our deepest darkest secrets to our friends).

As part of my job, I recruit one person from my church to share their faith story with the high schoolers monthly.  I am always surprised to hear how many people don’t feel as if they have a story to tell.  I hear over and over that their story is boring.  That they never really did anything ‘worth’ giving a testimony about.

We seem to have a misunderstanding in the church.  We believe that unless you have some horrid history to share, that you don’t have a story to tell.  If you weren’t a former alcoholic, scam artist, or motorcycle gang member, then you don’t have a testimony others want to hear.

In terms of testimonies, my story is pretty basic.  Sure, I made some boneheaded decisions as a teenager.  I got my heart broken a few times.  I wrestled with forgiveness.  But all in all, my story is pretty vanilla.  But here is the thing- it is my story, which makes it precious.  As I tell my high schoolers each month, the reason we tell our faith stories is to remind ourselves that God is doing something in the lives of everyone we see, including our own.  The more of other’s stories we hear, the better we are able to recognize the love story God is telling in our own lives.

Here is the truth.  No matter how boring our story may seem to us, it is actually epic.  Here is how your story goes:

You were lost.  Unredeemed.  Guilty and sentenced to death.  Living a life utterly without hope.

And a hero came.

He swept you off your feet.  Loved you without fear.  Delighted in the things that make you utterly unique.  Reminded you of your worth and your beauty.  And then, this lover of yours did the unthinkable.

He dove in front of the train.  He sacrificed his life, without a second thought, took your punishment upon himself, so that you were rescued.  Because of His sacrifice, you have a second chance at life.

Your faith story is SO much less about you, and MORE about Jesus, than you could ever imagine.  And because of that, we all have a story to tell.  One of the greatest love stories of all time.  One that includes drama, suspense, tragedy and triumph.  And your story is yours alone.

So you don’t have a shameful, dark past to tell?  So what?  You still have so much to share.  And your testimony can be told forwards as well as backwards.  What adventures are you living now, as you walk hand in hand with your Savior?  If you think your story is boring, stir it up!  See what adventures you can live today, next week, in your next decade!

 

Not Scary- FUN!

My two year old daughter is terrified of all things that make noise.   Anything can send her into hysterics- the garbage disposal, the bathroom fan, the ice machine on the fridge, half of the toys she owns…

In order to contain the terror, my husband and I have a phrase we keep repeating whenever she is screaming in terror… not scary- FUN!  She dutifully repeats this back to us- not scary… fun… This pattern has repeated itself over and over often enough that now, whenever she hears a loud noise, she comes sprinting towards us, hysterically half-laughing, half-crying, screaming NOT SCARY- FUN at the top of her lungs.  Other times, she buries her head in my shoulder, weeping, repeating not scary- fun.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of psychological damage we are inflicting upon her young mind.

Then I shrug, and turn back on the hair dryer.

not scary- fun

I may not be afraid of household appliances (with the exception to the vacuum cleaner) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that send me into hysterical fits.  Things like walking into a room of people I only know marginally well, and being expected to socialize.  Buying airplane tickets.  Making decisions that will affect other people. Leaning in and engaging in conflict.  Adulting in general.

There is so much about living life as a human that feels terrifying and unpredictable.  The stakes can feel so high.  Decisions, even tiny ones, can have huge consequences.  If you allow yourself to feel truly alone in the midst of this, the weight can be crushing.

I cannot count the times in my life that I wanted to run and bury my head in someone’s shoulder, to be held and reassured.  But we are all trying too hard to seem confident and put together to allow ourselves to do this.

Today, I was reflecting on some of my life mottoes- quotes and phrases that stick with me. and I noticed a common theme:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every situation where you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Fake it ’til you make it.

Here is the World.
Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen.
Don’t be Afraid.
-Fredrich Buechner

Yoga Pants.
Messy Bun.
Coffee’s Brewing.
Get it Done.

When I stop to think about it, all of these quotes lead towards the central truth in one of my favorite passages of scripture…

You have not been given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power, love, and self control.
2 Timothy 1:7

The spirit in you, it is created in the image of God.  We live our lives in full view of the loving eyes of our Savior.  Every day is written in his book.  Every tear is collected in his bottle.  There is nothing that can hide us, remove us, or exclude us from His love.

We feel timid, we feel fearful, but this is not who we are.  We are immortal souls, who have one shot at this life we have been given.  It’s a divine opportunity to do our best, to give our all.  To love big, fail big, and learn and to stretch our wings.  The Spirit that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world.

Who would you be, if you were freed from the spirit of fear that is holding you captive?  What would you do, if you were unleashed to be the person you truly are on the inside?  How would the world change if we gave ourselves permission to really try?  Perhaps then, the words would ring true…

Not scary- FUN!

Son of Encouragement

I talked in the last post about how the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete, our encourager, advocate, comforter.  As I continued my search through scripture on that word, I realized that it was used in another key passage in scripture…

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)…
Acts 4:36

Barnabas, the son of encouragement.  The word encouragement here is parakletos, a derivative of Paraclete.  Here is a person, an early church father, nicknamed the Encourager.  Called by the same terms as the Holy Spirit.

Finding this made me think.  What is our role as believers when it comes to encouragement?  We humans are created with an insatiable thirst for encouragement.  We have an indwelling God who is our full time encouraging, and yet we still hunger for affirmation.  How do we as brothers and sisters in Christ, live into this space?

Something started pinging in the back of my brain… Romans 12, one of my favorite passages…

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging.

Encouragement is a spiritual gift.  Something God values enough to list in one of the three main spiritual gifts passages in the New Testament.  This is clearly something important to Him, something He desires to see happening in his kingdom?

So why don’t we experience this more?  Why does the modern church have a reputation for being judgmental and harsh, not a place of encouragement and solace?  Where are the sermons preached, the classes taught on how to encourage others?

And, if we Christians have an indwelling Paraclete, why aren’t we using that gift of encouragement for those who do not; unbelievers who are so very thirsty for words of truth and affirmation?

I don’t know.  But this I do know.  When I take time to intentionally affirm others, I am encouraged in the process.  When parents take time to formally bless their children, those children begin to view their lives as a legacy ad not just a passing of time.  Encouragement matters.  It is powerful in a way that defies logic.

And I, for one, am going to try to intentionally engage in acts of radical encouragement.  When my life is over, may I be called a Daughter of Encouragement.   Care to join me?

Paraclete

I don’t know about you all, but I have a powerful need for encouragement.  Perhaps it’s because success at my job isn’t easily measurable.  Perhaps it’s because my love language is words of encouragement.  Perhaps its because I am simply human.  All I know is that I need to hear that I am loved, that I am valued, and that I am doing well on a regular basis.

Which is unfortunate.

Because this world isn’t exactly engineered to do that.  We live in a society of cynics.  People who employ sarcasm as a weapon.  These days, we are all critics.  Voicing our opinions on Facebook, on yelp reviews, in countless ways.  When I read my book, my default mode is to examine what I didn’t like about it, instead of what I did. The same goes for restaurants, TV shows, etc.  Will I notice when it begins to creep into the way I view my life?  My faith?  My children?

Here is the truth.  I do not know a single human being in my circle who is not in desperate need of affirmation.  Whether we realize it or not, our souls yearn to be blessed.  We all need to be told that we are seen.  That we are loved.  That we are important.  And it doesn’t take much to do that.  But here is the problem… in order to truly be able to bless others, we must know what it is to be blessed.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
John 14:16-17

According to GotQuestions.org, “The Greek word translated “Comforter” or “Counselor” (as found in John 14:16, 26;15:26; and 16:7) is parakletos. This form of the word is unquestionably passive and properly means “one called to the side of another,” with the secondary notion of counseling or supporting him. This Counselor, or Paraclete, is God the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. He is a personal being who indwells every believer.”  In other words, we have a full time encourager, who lives with us and constantly is whispering words of truth and affirmation into our lives.

How do we attune our ears to hear the Holy Spirit?  I believe the easiest first step is learning what is NOT his voice…

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
John 10:10

If you are hearing a message that makes you feel less:  less loved, less free, less beautiful or wonderful, I am willing to bet it is not the voice of God.  When we encounter God, we always want to be higher.  Even when we feel convicted, it is a conviction out of a need to be closer to God, not a feeling of condemnation or shame.

Who are you to God?  The Bible is full of answers.

You are:
Dearly Loved
Bought with a Price
Redeemed
Forgiven
Perfect
Whole
Created to be You on Purpose
There is a Plan for your life
It is a Good one
You are a Bride
You are Beautiful
You are Unique
You are Seen
You are Known
You are Not Alone
A Son or a Daughter
A Brother or a Sister
Restored
Important.

Take some time today and read over the list.  Reflect upon something that sticks out to you.  (Or add something to my list!) Realize that this is the TRUTH about you.  Hold it in your mind as you go about your day.

You.
Are.
Loved.