Always Present-It Matters!

 

Tennessee has now been my home for 23 years. I was born in Texas and didn’t leave until I was 25, which means I’m still a Texas girl at heart. The saying “you can take a girl out of Texas, but can’t take Texas out of the girl” surely rings true for me. With family in Texas, I periodically make trips out there.

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Amarillo to spend some time with my dad. With no direct flight from Nashville, I had a layover in Dallas. As I checked in at the gate to board the plane, a very quick encounter with a friendly Southwest agent helped me experience the importance of a name. On that day, it was my name that had importance.

It was really a little thing, but it made me feel that I mattered. I was present, really present, in someone’s eyes who didn’t even know me. What did he do? He said my name. “Have a good flight, Kristi,” he said. This agent took the time to actually look at my name on my boarding pass, then look at me and actually say my name. In those brief moments, he was present. He did this for everyone when he scanned their boarding pass.

I couldn’t help but think of how God is always present with us. We matter to Him. He is always attentive to us. He knows our names. Isaiah 41:16 declares, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Isaiah 43:1 proclaims, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” His presence – what a gift!

I also know that in order for spiritual growth to happen in me, I must be attentive to Him. And His desire is for me to also be attentive to others that are in my life, no matter how brief that encounter may be. Being fully present for each person in my path is a gift I can offer. Is this easy? Absolutely not! It’s so easy to be partially present with others and partially present with God. My mind easily drifts away to many other things. It can happen so quickly. I can be completely unaware.

There are many ways we can practice being present with God and with others. The first step to living fully in the moment with God, and with those precious ones he places in our lives, is discovering what distracts us from really being present. It’s a courageous and selfless act to place ourselves in the position of this kind of self-awareness. We may not like what we see. And, we may not want to put forth the effort it takes to embrace what we find. But, it is worth it. There’s great joy and inner peace to be found in this place. This is living out being a part of Christ’s Kingdom work here on Earth.

What are common distractions that keep you from being present with God and with others? What occasional distractions impact your life and throw you off track (out of presence)? Maybe some are yearly or seasonal. Name some of them. What can you learn through them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grief-A Hard Journey

 

 

It’s good having people in our lives who frequently ask, “How are you really doing?” I’m grateful for family and friends who take me as I am today no matter where I am emotionally. It is hard to admit where these weeks of May 2018 have taken me emotionally, but I know I must.

I remember calling a beloved friend of my sister’s on the day she died, May 26, 2017. I cried out these words, “I didn’t think it would hurt this badly!” She said, “I know.” She did know and she understood. She, too, had lost a cherished younger sibling to the enemy of cancer.

I didn’t think it would hurt this badly because I knew, as did my sister Kimberly, and others knew, that she was going to lose this earthly battle with this wretched disease. I thought somehow that this knowing would help me be more prepared to tell her bye and to accept it, but it didn’t. I also thought that because we are a family of Jesus followers who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when we take our last earthly breath that the next breath will be in Heaven with Jesus that my grief wouldn’t be so intense. But it was.

All in all, I believe I’ve walked this journey of grief in a good and healthy way. It’s been a hard journey, but with God’s care and the help of family and friends, I think I’ve done pretty well. Joy returned. I went with a friend to her cabin in the Smoky Mountains in April. I laughed and shared funny stories about Kimberly with her. I remember thinking, “Kristi, you’re doing quite well! It’s nearly been a year and look at you! You’ve hardly shed any tears during the last weeks. You are in such a good place.” But then, May rolled in. The first week of May I was off on an overseas mission trip. The trip was full of good, life-giving activity. Again, I thought how nice it was that I was doing so well. Then, unexpectedly, during the second week of May grief grabbed me again. I thought it would hold off until this week. It didn’t.

Sunday my pastor took his sermon from Matthew 18, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” He said we are to be child-like, not childish, which means we are to have a child-like faith that comes from humility. This is being totally God-dependent.

On my way home, grief punched me in the gut again. With tears rolling down my face, I knew I was going into a place that seemed very childish. And, in all honesty, I knew God could take it. My heart was throwing a temper tantrum before God as I cried out, “I want my sister back. I miss her so much. This hurt and pain is awful!” A child’s needs are to be met by parents. I know as a parent, I did not always meet my children’s needs in a perfect and loving way, but my Heavenly Father meets His children’s needs in a lovingly perfect and right way. He lovingly listens, He lovingly shows patience. He lovingly shows He understands. He knows I am weak and frail. I admit my weakness and frailty. Perhaps it’s in the admitting of my childishness that I can grow deeper into that child-like faith. When a child falls, the parent reaches down and lifts them up. That’s exactly what my Father God is doing for me today: He’s lifting me back up, and He will do it again and again. Of that I am sure.

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Psalm 40:2-3

A Transformational Tool That Has Impacted My Life

                                                                                                                                                                   Photo courtesy of Rfitzel.com

Personality theories have always intrigued me. A few years ago my daughter introduced me to a new personality typology. I thought, “Why not learn more about this one, too.” This particular typology has a strange name— the Enneagram. Of course, she had to spell it for me and pronounce it quite a few times before I could even come close to getting it right. She signed up for an all day teaching on this odd sounding personality study and invited me to go with her.

I left pretty overwhelmed that day. You see, this is a typology that identifies more than just those nice strong characteristics that work for good in our lives when we use them in the way God intends. It also identifies negatives qualities that can show up: the sinful part, our lower nature, which we all have. I was pretty uncomfortable. I left that day with more questions than answers. I left that day pretty down on myself. Surely those negative characteristics in what was looking like “my number”, “my space” weren’t true! Well . . . they are there. I wanted to hide.

However, something significant took place that day. My daughter and I went to a deeper place of connection in our relationship. We talked. We cried. We asked for forgiveness from one another. We gave it to one another. We now have more understanding and compassion toward one another. We have more grace towards one another because we understand ourselves and each other better.

We discovered we each look at life and even at each other through a different lens. Many of us believe others see things in life just like we do and if they don’t then we believe they’re wrong and we’re right. That’s not necessarily true. I’m very grateful for the new discoveries I continue making about myself, about others, and about God through using the tool of the Enneagram. There’s spiritual wisdom to be found in this ancient typology system. It’s leading me closer to God.

In my journey of studying the Enneagram I ran across this quote by John Calvin. “Nearly all wisdom we possess, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. No one can truly know God without knowing oneself and one couldn’t truly know oneself without knowing God. Which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”

God uniquely and beautifully designed each of us. Unfortunately, sin marred God’s perfect design. Placed in the perfect Garden of Eden, the first man used the gift of choice and chose to disobey God. But, God in His perfect love sent us a Rescuer who redeems. His name is Jesus.

The Enneagram is a great tool that can help us confront those things in our lives that Jesus wants to redeem and transform. I love what Eugene Peterson says: “In His love, Jesus, diagnoses what is unique in us. He understands the precise ways in which things have gone wrong, and diagnoses the particular aberrations that have seeped into our lives, and then He mercilessly saves us from them. Jesus’ love awakens the sleeping parts of our lives to the colors and delights of eternal life. This waking is not without pain or difficulty or struggle. Being awake requires more energy than sleeping. There is also the possibility of more pain. Sleeping people don’t suffer.”

We can be asleep at the wheel of our lives and stop growing in our relationship to God, with each other, and in relationship to ourselves, which includes knowing what is going on in those deeper recesses of our hearts. This is a part of spiritual transformation. There is pain and struggle involved, but it moves us to a deeper place of flourishing that is joy-filled, love-filled, and peace filled

God is using the tool of the Enneagram to make me more aware of who I am: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Each day God reveals more of Himself to me through the Holy Scriptures and through His Spirit.

Roberto Assaglio aptly describes spiritual transformation: Spiritual development is a long and arduous journey, an adventure through strange lands full of surprises, joy, beauty, difficulties, and even dangers.”

I can honestly say the past year included all of those things. It’s included grief like I’ve never known before, Biblical study in a way I’d never done before, obedience to God in areas that surprised me and stretched me, deeper connections in relationships with family and friends because of my own spiritual growth, and the opportunity for deeper training in understanding the Enneagram through an exceptional Enneagram coach. That training has opened doors for me to coach others using the Enneagram, too.

I’m learning how to truly love God, others and myself (Romans 13:8, Galatians 5:14, 22-23). The journey is just beginning! In coming blogs, I’ll share more of the transformation God is doing in me and, I trust, you’ll be challenged and encouraged, too. Are you in a growth process? How has God been transforming you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Passion that Changed the World

 

 

There are things said to us in life that we never forget. Some of these words spoken are good for our souls. They are life-giving. But, some words hurt our hearts and cause us to bleed for a while.

Many years ago I had a part-time job that was helping us get by financially. What should have been a life-giving environment was not. When I received my yearly evaluation I was rather stunned when out in the margin was the question, “Is this your passion?” I was offended by that question. I felt unfairly judged by this fellow pilgrim. We never had a chance to discuss what she had written out in the margin. The evaluator and I definitely had different perspectives on some things.

However, something positive resulted from this. I did some introspection and asked myself, “What are your passions, Kristi.” I didn’t have much trouble coming up with them. When I did, I knew they were the right ones for me in that season of life. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines passion as a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.

My passions revealed my priorities and they were spot on. I didn’t have to feel guilt for not being passionate about the job I had at that particular time in my life especially when it was full of difficult stresses. But it was helping provide for some needs in my family and that lined up well with a passion concerning my family which was finding a way to live debt-free. Our passions may change over time. A passion can flame up for a while and then pass.

There’s another kind of passion that I investigated through my recent study of Romans. It is the passion of Christ.

When we speak of the “passion” of Christ, we speak of his suffering. Jesus had no “excitement” about the cross. Death on a cross was likely the most horrific death ever experienced. The physical suffering on the cross alongside the emotional and spiritual suffering of bearing the sins of all mankind are of such a magnitude that is beyond imagination.

But in his suffering, Jesus did find joy! Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” What was the joy before Jesus? Perfectly obeying the Father, for sure, but also, I believe Jesus had joy because he saw your salvation and mine! Jesus’ passion changed the world.

Because of the cross and resurrection death lost its sting and we are given all we need to live abundantly now with hope, power, love, comfort, joy, and courage. He gave His all so that those who trust in Him can really live.

Today, Easter 2018, is a great time to revisit what we’re passionate about. Do our passions honor and please the Savior who suffered and gave His all so we could really live? Do our passions include using the unique giftedness God has placed within us? Our passions make known what we love. If our “loves” are wrongly placed, it’s never too late to let the old go and replace with something new. It’s the best way to live.

 

 

 

Thinking in Threes: It Makes a Difference

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I attended a couple’s retreat. The theme was “Be Refreshed”. It was a delightful couple of days hearing different speakers share the importance of being refreshed in our souls, marriages, ministries and other areas of our lives. The men and women met together for many of the sessions, but we had two separate breakouts. Mike shared his notes from the men’s session with me. Don’t we all love to hear someone speak whose presentation is full of good “take away’s”. His was.

The topic for this particular breakout session was “Be Refreshed in Your Soul.” Our soul is our mind, our will, our emotions. The speaker for the men, Tony Rankin, had many practical suggestions in the area of mind refreshment. It’s hard to find times of refreshment during the day when we have a list a mile long of things to get done. Tony suggested taking that list, but limiting ourselves to thinking about and only doing three things on the list at a time. When a set of three is done, then take a break, maybe a 5-10 minute break. Then, start on the next three things.

I like this idea. This week I thought I’d give this a try. I tweaked it just a bit for me. I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with life, so on my blank, small piece of paper I wrote down only three things. That made it more manageable. By the end of the day it brought great satisfaction to look at the many “threes” that were completed. The last set of three’s wasn’t completed, but it really didn’t matter since I could look back and see the other “three’s” that were completed.

Thinking in three’s can actually be something quite spiritual. The number three is significant in the Bible. It’s used hundreds of times. It seems to be the number of completion and perfection. My life has been and continues being changed by these “three’s”:

  • The Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Where would I be without having a personal relationship with God the Father through His perfect son, Jesus? Where would I be without the abiding power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in me, through me, and around me?
  • The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ means I can now live free from the power of sin and death. This is available to all who have put their faith and trust in the One who gave His all so we can truly live. Acts 17:28 says, “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
  • Our design as made by our Creator God – body, soul, and spirit. We are created as image bearers of the one Master Designer. This is who we are. We are His workmanship

The plan of working in “three’s” is quite practical. I may get to the end of the day and find that I’ve checked off most things in those sets of threes. In most cases, if something is left undone, we are gifted with the newness of the next day to complete what was left unfinished.

Additionally, there is an important question I must ask myself when I look at that list. How many things were centered on self and how many on others? If it’s way out of balance, I need to do some re-prioritizing in my life.

Recently I got to the end of the day – much was accomplished. Then I saw a word on one of my lists of three’s that didn’t get done . . . a word I really don’t like very much. I saw the word iron. It hadn’t gotten done.

In reality, I didn’t have to do that ironing. My husband has plenty of clean shirts to wear, but it was something I could do and wanted to do because I love him. It was an opportunity to die to self in a real practical way. Making a deliberate focus on serving others a part of my daily planning will be a huge blessing to me and others. I sense that more will be accomplished, too.

If fullness of life comes from living and moving in a way that honors the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, then the days that make up our lives will be days that delight the Father. These kinds of days bring us joy, peace, satisfaction and a sense of completeness in Him. They are days of productive fruit-bearing.

Going Barefooted–Preparing for Advent

                

 

One of my favorite movies of all time is Australia. I saw it on the big screen three times, then we bought our own copy. Now one of our traditions is to watch it once a year, usually around Christmas. Last week, on a cozy winter’s night we curled up on the couch to watch this favorite.

Australia has a little bit of everything: Incredible drama, war, jealousy, revenge, hatred, prejudice and fear. It also has love, tenderness, longing to belong and longing to know who you really are. I was brought up with Westerns so that explains why I even get goose bumps all over during the incredible cattle stampede.

The story centers on the relationship of Nullah, a little Aboriginal boy, and a British woman, Lady Sarah Ashley. Lady Sarah arrives from England and discovers that her husband has been murdered on his ranch, Far Away Downs. To save the ranch, they have to “drove” 1500 head of cattle to the port.

It’s on the ranch that she meets Nullah and his mother. After Nullah’s mother dies, Lady Sarah is thrust into being a surrogate mother. A woman with no experience with children discovers a love she’d never known: the love of a mother and child.

This British woman who now regards this little Aborigine as an adopted son tends to dress him in typical British boy clothing. Although Nullah has everything he could possibly want in his new family, he knows something is missing. He doesn’t understand who he really is.

You see, Nullah is a mixed-race aboriginal child. One time he says, “I not white fella. I not black fella. I half-cast. I belong to nobody.” He longs for that missing piece to be found and he knows that missing piece can only be found in going Walkabout with his Aboriginal grandfather.

At the end of the movie, much to Lady Sarah’s dismay, he reconnects with his grandfather to go on this journey of discovering who he really is. This time of Walkabout will be where he will find his identity as he uncovers his traditional and spiritual roots.

The British clothes he’d now become accustomed to wearing, wouldn’t work for the nomadic wanderings in the wilderness with his grandfather. They would restrict the freedom needed for this journey. He has to shed what will weigh him down before he goes to the Outback. He sheds his shirt and then, in a moment of true abandon, he throws off his shoes. He went into the wilderness bare-footed.

Four years ago my daughter gave me a book “The Greatest Gift-Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” by Ann Voskamp. Now each December I use this book for my Advent reading. I just read: “Walk barefoot a bit through your last days of Advent.”

In the margin of that page where I saw those words I wrote the question : What does this really mean for me? How can I do this? I so desire to shed those things that can keep me from experiencing the spiritual treasures that God longs to give me in the days leading up to Christmas. Here’s what I’m working on shedding:

  • I’m shedding myself of any kind of performance trap or comparison trap
  • Shedding perfectionistic tendencies that drive me to “gotta go and get, gotta go and do, gotta, gotta gotta” This drains me and means there is no time to be present in stillness with God and no quality time in being present with my precious family and friends.
  • Shedding burdens and expectations so I can enjoy the what “is” and the great “Who IS”

The amazing thing is that these are riddances that God desires for me. I won’t rid myself perfectly of them, but God is with me along the way. His Son, His Spirit are cheering me on and I’m experiencing some of the best peace I’ve ever known.

How about you? How can you walk barefoot these last days of Advent? Remember, you just might be walking on holy ground, such a good place to land.

Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

Hope or HOPE!

For the past three months it seems like the word hope has shown up over and over in my life.  It has come from different places in the Bible where I just happened to be reading. It has also appeared in secular books I’ve read. And then Sunday the worship leader read Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope.” I thought it rather strange that he read that scripture since it wasn’t the passage the preacher would be focusing on in his sermon. It was a word for me. I’ve think lately I have tried to run away from leaning into the word hope because of the grief in my life and possibly because it’s a word I overuse. We use this word for all types of wishes and desires. We want something to happen. Recently these are some things I said or thought:

  • I hope I get enough sleep.
  • I hope I can find that receipt.
  • I hope I can find my fit-bit.
  • I hope the new recipe I tried turns out.
  • I hope there’s time to get everything done that needs to get done.

When I look at this list I can’t help but ask myself the question, “Do I feel anxiety every time I use the word hope in these situations?” The truth is, probably so. Yes, I pray in many of these instances, but there’s a lack of peace when I don’t get a positive yes to what I’m hoping for. These types of hopes are wishful thinking. These are not earth-shattering things, but I do allow these things which are really minor to bring disruption to my soul. These aren’t bad desires. These things can seem small, but are still worthy of praying about. Then, there are majorly serious things in my life that I have hoped for. Many of these hopes have been fulfilled. I’ve been happy because of them. I give God thanks for them.

But, one of my hopes wasn’t fulfilled. The disease of cancer invaded my sister’s body 5 ½ years ago. Cancer took her life on the morning of May 26. My hope, her hope, hundreds of others’ hopes – prayers prayed in faith didn’t receive what we hoped for. It didn’t turn out like “we” wanted. God in His goodness has been blasting out this word HOPE for a reason. God in His goodness wants me to take a good look at what this Biblical HOPE really means.

“Rejoice and exult in hope…” (Romans 12:12) What kind of hope is it that I can rejoice in? Can this kind of hope help me to not get bent out of shape over the “little things” that might not go my way? Can this kind of hope carry me through grief when my heart is broken? Absolutely and emphatically, YES! Hope is tied to something that I hope will happen in the future. Most things I hope for have some uncertainty in them. Biblical HOPE is a hope of certainty. It is based upon the Word and Character of God. There are some things I KNOW are true for today and therefore are true for tomorrow. What are they?

  • I am never alone. Jesus is always with me. “And lo I am with you always.” Matthew 28: 20
  • I don’t have to stay in a place of discouragement. God says, “I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Isaiah 4:11
  • God will lift me out of the pit, Psalm 40:2
  • God will turn my mourning into dancing, Psalm 30:11
  • God will use my pain to bring Him glory and to develop maturity of character in me, Romans 5:2-5
  • I have the gift of eternal life in Heaven awaiting me. I will see Jesus face to face and experience living with Him forever! I will see my sister again! 1 John 5:13
  • I am perfectly loved by God and will always be perfectly loved by Him. Nothing will ever separate me from this perfect unconditional love. Romans 8:31

God is my HOPE and He never fails. I can rejoice even in my pain, even through my tears, even in my waiting because I have attached myself to the God of sure, secure hope. This rejoicing is not based on how I feel; it is based on knowing who God is and what He freely and lovingly gives me. These gifts are never given because of my performance, but because of my faith and trust in Christ and His love for me.

I had a text from Kimberly the day before I flew out to see her, three days before her death. She wrote these words, “It’s been another PERFECT DAY WITH JESUS, and Annalena (her grandbaby)! I’m doing fine! In recliner resting.” She understood what Biblical, Christian hope is and she was doing FINE! She knew she was secure in Jesus and she was satisfied.

Joy and satisfaction and peace can be found only through anchoring our whole self to Jesus, who is our Hope for today, tomorrow, and always. As a friend said to me just this morning, “How can we live without hope!” Because of Jesus and what His death, burial, and resurrection means, we don’t have to! He’s our hope of Glory!

Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

FitBit for the Soul

 

 

 

A few years ago my sister asked me if I had a FitBit. I told her I had no idea what one was. She told me it was the rage: her daughters had one as well as most teachers she worked with. She tried to explain it. I thought all it did was track your steps for the day. I figured I didn’t need one since I already incorporate some type of exercise into most of my days. I went out and bought a $10.00 step tracker at Aldi. I never used it. I’ve made it pretty well without any kind of step tracker, up until two weeks ago. I don’t look a gift horse in the mouth when I’m offered something free. So I wasn’t about to turn down a FitBit when it was gifted to me.

A FitBit is quite fascinating. I had no idea it could know so much about me. It knows:

  • The number of steps I take in a day
  • The distance I traverse
  • The calories I burn
  • The type of steps I take: a stroll, vigorous walk, or a run
  • The time I go to bed
  • The hours I sleep
  • The type of sleep I get: restful or restless

This FitBit is designed to make me a healthier “me”. Maybe it could make you a healthier you. However, we have to realize we can look quite good on the outside and be quite ragged looking on the inside. And, that ragged look on the inside matters to God and it should matter to us.

That makes me ponder these questions: Am I living the way God designed me? Am I doing the inward work that moves me more into the place of inward healthy living that brings wholeness?

I know I want to say yes to all of the questions. But, part of living out the yes is understanding there are places in me, and in all of us, that still need working on. It’s so easy to run and hide from these things. These things lurk in the shadows and keep us from living out the full beauty that is in each of us. God’s desire is that we live in the light of His son Jesus. But, to do that we must make sure our hands are open to God as we pray as David did in Psalm 139. He asked God to search his heart, and his thoughts, to show him his grievous ways, and then to lead him in the right path. It takes courage to pray this and really mean it.

The FitBit is not totally accurate on its tracking. That’s a given. But, God is accurate on all things about each of us. He knows those places in each of us that stump us up and keep us from going deeper with Him, deeper within ourselves with helpful self-knowledge, and deeper with family and friends. It takes humility to do this hard work. It’s a peeling off of things that are artificial. It’s a taking off of masks we wear. It is in this place, however, that there is true freedom to become the person God uniquely designed us to be. It’s a place that can make us feel more alive, more settled in our soul. We then can love deeper, care deeper, think deeper, live deeper, experience deeper, search deeper, and long deeper.

 

Most of us struggle saying yes to entering this kind of God work/soul work. It can be brutal but oh the joys! I love what David Benner says: “My identity as a Christian has more to do with becoming than with simply being. And what I have wanted to become has been fully alive and deeply human.” It’s rather risky to start living in this way but it’s a way of living the journey of becoming whole, alive, and deeply human.