Quieting Our Souls

We’re all walking out our own story in this outbreak of COVID-19. The most important question for me today: How am I walking it out? Maybe you want to ask that question with me.

Am I walking it out knowing Jesus is with me? Am I concerned for others, even those outside of my immediate family? Am I ready to share? Would I let go of something I’d like to hold onto if someone is in need? Am I praying more than I’ve ever prayed? Is my soul worshipping God as I pray? Do my prayers include those who were already fighting intense battles of all kinds before this virus crashed in like a tidal wave? I hope so. In a way, I think those dear ones may need our prayers more than anyone else. They need to know they are not forgotten.

Many years ago I read a Christian classic, The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This classic has shown up on a required reading book list for The Soul Care Institute that my husband and I are a part of. It is good to be reading again about the life of Bro. Lawrence. I am reminded, through his life that my whole day can actually be God centered. It’s really possible for any person to practice the presence of God all during the day.

This pandemic has quieted our immediate surroundings – at least there’s less traffic and noise. But anxiety, stress and even panic have not quieted, and this is impacting our souls. Our souls long to be quieted. Our souls long for rest, hope and peace.

What an opportunity to give our souls what they long for. God’s presence in us and around us aids us in this soul posture. What an opportunity for me and for you to frequently set apart daily times to focus our gaze upon Jesus and pray like we’ve never prayed before.

We have the time.

Even Brother Lawrence, in his earliest days of his love journey of walking with Jesus, struggled with “wandering wild fancies that would invade his mind and take violent passion of the place of God.” During those times he kept calm, proceeded to rid his mind of the distractions, and returned to his commune with God.

Be blessed, dear ones, and stay close to the heart of Jesus. “Seek the Lord and His strength. Seek His presence continually.” Psalm 105:4

 

 

 

 

The Way to Live-The Way to Leave

 

In September of 2018 while on a spiritual retreat in Colorado, I peeked at Messenger. It was the kind of retreat where we were asked to put all technology aside, but I did happen to glance at my phone and saw something from my cousin, Greg. We lived 1000 miles apart which made keeping in touch difficult. Because it was unusual for him to message me, I knew it had to be something important. It was. He was asking for prayer. He had passed out in a restaurant which landed him in the hospital for testing. The doctors feared he had leukemia. The fear was confirmed.

Greg was a farmer. A friend has the right word to describe farmers: tough. Yes, farmers are tough. Greg had strength and toughness. But, he had something else, too: gentleness and a great capacity to love and spread joy. He poured out that love and joy to his teenage daughter, Sydney. He couldn’t bear leaving her. She’d already lost her mother 9 years ago. So, Greg fought hard for one and a half years. Two weeks ago yesterday, his final earthly battle was done.

I called Greg frequently during his stay at MD Anderson in Houston. His stay was long: eleven months. Our conversations were gifts to me. I remember one of his comments, “It’s a win-win, no matter what happens.” He said those words with joy and assurance. He could say them because he knew he had the hope of Heaven awaiting him. He knew that’s where he was headed, either sooner or later. Of course, he desired later, but he was entrusting it all to Jesus whom he loved and had given his life to years earlier.

God, through His goodness, grace, and mercy provided a way for me to attend Greg’s memorial service. Actually, God worked a miracle in order for me to be there. Yes, there was intense sadness for Sydney, Greg’s mother (my precious 90-year-old Aunt Nancy) and Greg’s brother, Mike. And, sorrow for all the rest of us who loved Greg. But, what we received from the memorial service gave comfort and even joy.

The pastor and shepherd, Rick, who’d spent much time with Greg, shared what Greg whispered into his ear one of the last times he saw Greg. Greg’s declared, “It is well with my soul.” How could Greg say that? He knew Who he belonged to and what he had to look forward to. It’s evident he’d surrendered everything which included his every breath to the keeper of his soul: Jesus.

Greg left the proof that he’d surrendered it all. This proof was included in the words he wrote that were read at the funeral: “Everyday God gives us is a blessing. When I’m gone I’ll be with him. What a blessing.” In these words printed on the memorial program, Greg again affirmed, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

This proof was also in the words of the two songs Greg wanted sung: “When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary, when troubles come, and my heart burdened be. Then, I am still and wait here in the silence until You come and sit awhile with me. You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains, You raise me up to walk on stormy seas, I am strong when I am on your shoulders, You raise me up to more than I can be.” And then the song Even If by Mercy Me “. . . I know You’re able and I know You can save through the fire with Your mighty hand, but even if You don’t my hope is You alone.”

Greg left us in a way that brought glory and honor to the One who made him. Greg’s hope was in Christ and him alone. He breathed his last breath knowing all was well with his soul.

Questions we must answer: How is my soul today? How will my soul be the day I take my last breath?

What we do right now in this very moment will determine the answer.

From Silence to Hope-Darkness to Light

 

 

 

Have you ever been in a meaningful relationship that went silent? I have. Sometimes this silence means the relationship has ended so we work through the “closure” knowing we must accept it and move on. We finally come to the place of knowing it was for the best. But, there are other times we just know the relationship is something of great value that needs to be resurrected so we wait, we hope, we pray, we believe. We want to also watch, but at times there’s not much to watch because of the physical or emotional distance that has resulted. It’s in that place that it is so easy to give up because of the deafening silence.

There was a time in Biblical history where everything went silent. This was an era of Silence. Ever since Noah, God had provided someone who spoke God’s message to others. Then it stopped – for over 400 years. However, if we do some historical study of this time period we see that a lot was happening. God was not inactive. He was at work. All things were falling into place, good and bad, preparing the way for the greatest miracle of all times to spring forth: the birth of the long awaited Messiah, Jesus. God broke through the silence and this breaking through changed everything. It’s because of this that we have hope that relationships that need renewing and remaking can really happen. God is the expert – he knows what needs to happen and when it needs to happen for rebirth to occur.

Recently in my place of quiet God reminded me of Isaiah 64:4, a scripture I’d memorized many years ago: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” Have you been waiting and longing for something to happen that has seemed impossible? I have. I have prayed, hoped, believed, waited, and wrestled with God. Now . . . some light is breaking through. God is allowing me to get a peek at what He’s been up to, however, all is not yet as it should be. But I will keep waiting, watching, and knowing that at just the right moment in time God will let me see what He’s been up to all along. In this “all along time,” I can trust he is doing some major repair work in me that is conforming me into more of the likeness of His perfect Son, Jesus. I can trust in the greatness and goodness of God in all things. He is working on my behalf and on yours. We can rest in Him, always being assured that it really is good. We must never lose hope in the waiting.

Gracious Father, enlarge our capacity for waiting patiently today as we pray “For you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God who will answer.” Psalm 38:15

Two thousand years ago God broke the silence. Through Jesus, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2) Where do you need a breakthrough of light today? Where do you need God to speak?

With My Whole Heart

 

It’s hard to believe that five years ago today Mother breathed out her last breath in what had been her earthly home for 80 years. I can’t imagine what that first hello to Jesus must have been like! But, one day I will, of that I am sure.

What a gift it was for me to be there the morning of her earthly good-bye. Because she had battled Alzheimer’s disease, there was joy to see her delivered from the suffering that this disease had wrought. That morning before her departure from us, I read aloud Psalm 119 to her. It was sacred ground. So, for the last four years I’ve re-read this Psalm on this day and written about what stands out to me the most at this time in my life.

The words that have spoken the most to me this year are the words whole heart. I’ve been reading a lot lately about whole hearted living so it’s no wonder that the words whole heart leapt off the pages. “O Lord, teach me how you want me to live! Make me wholeheartedly committed to you!” Psalm 86:11 “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart.” Psalm 119:2 “With my whole heart I seek you.” Psalm 119:10

Giving my whole heart, my whole me to God is not as easy as I’d once thought it would be. There are obstacles to whole hearted living. Two major obstacles are not being authentic and perfectionism. When we put on masks covering up our true selves we end up hiding from God and living a divided life. A divided life makes it impossible to love God and others with my whole heart. Perfectionism is a dead end road. I have believed the lie that to be loved I have to be perfect. Of course it’s a lie! There’s no way I could ever be perfect. I am fallen, I have broken parts. We can believe that being perfect is where acceptance, love, and freedom is found. But it is not. It is bondage!

That bondage keeps us from living and leaning into our belovedness. It does not lead to anything good. I love what someone said about perfectionism in my Journey to Freedom group: “Perfectionism is not an option.” There have been times where I’ve deluded myself into thinking it was an option and even a demand from God. It is not. I am not perfect – I will never be. God knows that and He loves me no matter what.

I’ve been camping out a lot in the Beatitudes, Matthew 5: 1-12. I was delighted to find some amazing insights from Chuck DeGroat in his book “Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self”. He points out that Jesus’ way of ascent is the way of descent. Chuck writes:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit –We are blessed when we realize we are broken. This brings us to the end of ourselves. Jesus meets us in our brokenness. There is an invitation to come out of hiding.
  • Blessed are those who mourn—We are blessed to have a place where we can be present with God to let it all out through grieving and lament.
  • Blessed are the meek —We are blessed when we are humbled and allow our ego to be shattered.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness —We are blessed when we long more than ever for God.
  • Blessed are the merciful—We are blessed when we let ourselves be moved by and for the other.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart —We are blessed when we become whole by living in a place of holiness. We see God. Purity is about a state of well -being that leads to shalom. Shalom is a place of undividedness which is wholeness. Jesus puts us back together again so that our inner place matches our outer place.”

My mother is safely Home. She is now perfectly whole in every way. I’m not there yet. But for now, my desire is to live as fully as possible in a place of whole-hearted living where I can enjoy sweet communion with God and the people I love.

Resilience of the Pink Calla Lily

 

My mother died October 23, 2014, almost 5 years ago. The amazing people my husband works with sent a beautiful plant in memory of her death. I wasn’t sure what kind of plant it was, but it looked somewhat like a Peace Lily. I’d had Peace Lilies before and knew they were quite hardy. So, I just gave it water…..every once in a while. However, my care must not have been what was needed since the leaves started turning brown so I took it outside and just left it. I left it out of sight since I knew it was withering away. It’s beside our AC unit, so it couldn’t be an eye sore when it finally lost all of its leaves. That original plastic pot became weathered and now has broken cracked pieces in various places. It still out of sight, and out of my mind.

So, can you imagine my shock when in May green leaves started sprouting up out of that years-old pot of dirt! A lot of leaves!! Then, much to my surprise a gorgeous pink flower popped out. I knew it was not like the flower from a Peace Lily. I had no idea what kind of flower it was, but after investigating, I discovered it was a Calla Lily. This flower was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life. That Calla Lily flower popping out on May 30, 2019, was a God-gift to me. This flower came at a time when my heart was sad as I was remembering the two year anniversary week of the death of my sister, Kimberly, as well as another sad event of the previous year. That Calla Lilly continued to bloom. Not only was there one flower, but many.

God spoke much to me as I watched something come alive that I thought was dead. He used this plant to remind me that just because I saw and thought something dead didn’t mean it was. Why? Because God is the life-giver, the life re-newer, the life-sustainer. Nature is held in His hands and so am I. So are you. We are never ever separated from Him who breathed life in us. His breath still breathes into us every day. This is what matters. As long as there’s breath in our body we can rest assured that beauty and vibrance is still there that can pop out every day. There’s never a reason to give up.

When I can’t sense God’s movement in my life, He’s still moving. He’s still loving, He’s still making, He’s still forming. And, He still says, “It is very good.” Kristi, too, can say, “It is very good.” So can you.

What good things do you need to thank Him for today? He is there and He is not silent. You can definitely thank Him for that!

Celebrate Today

 

 

Two years ago today, we celebrated with family and friends the life of my fiery, bigger than life, beautiful red-headed sister, Kimberly. This service was not called a funeral. We never spoke of it in that way. It was a Celebration of Life service.  The burial took place during the morning hours, the Celebration in the afternoon.

We celebrated Kimberly’s life, but more than that, we celebrated the life of Jesus in her. He is the One who spoke life into her. He was her joy and her strength. We chose songs to sing that meant the most to her: The God of Angel Armies, Great Are You Lord, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here, and No Longer Slaves to Fear. These are all songs related to the reasons we can celebrate life even when walking through dark shadowed times.

Kimberly focused on living bravely, in a celebratory fashion, so beautifully right up to the moment she left this earth. She is one that lived well and died well. I can’t help but think of the second verse of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He (Jesus) did, this sinful world, not as I would have it;

Trusting that He will make all things right, if I surrender to His will.

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life.

And supremely happy with Him

Forever and ever in the next.

What is the will of our Father God? He desires that we celebrate something about life every day. How do we do this?

The key is living in the present. Living in the present embraces the truth that in each day there are moments to enjoy and even relish. The enemy of living present is living in the past. We do this by wishing things were still as they used to be. We long for those “good times.” But living in the past is dangerous because there were bad and hurtful things there, too. We can get stuck there wrestling with the “whys” and “what if’s”. Kimberly could have dwelled on many whys and what if’s, but she determined to live in the present.

So what kinds of things can I celebrate in the day I have? This is something I’m working hard on. How can I find those things? It’s about awareness. It’s an awareness that finds ways to celebrate the fact that I am alive and breathing. Kimberly never wanted to have to walk around toting a can of oxygen with an oxygen tube in her nose, but she surrendered to it beautifully and was she ever thankful!! She could breathe easier! She could still do life! She was tickled pink that the technician gave her enough tubing attached to the tank so she could walk all around the house. She rejoiced in how nice and kind that technician was in setting it all up in her house. She even said, “I’ve got to contact the company he works for and tell them what a great job he’s doing for people.”

I remember my father-in-law in his prayer before each evening meal saying, “Thank you, God, for this another beautiful day.” Is every day full of beauty? Well . . . maybe not, but, yes, there is much beauty around me every day. Sometimes I’ve just been unaware. Living in the present, even in the midst of pain, I’m discovering these things of beauty that I’d missed before and they are taking me to deeper sacred places in my own soul, in my relationship to God, and with others.

Sometimes it’s even seeing “old things” in a new way. As I experience delighting in seeing these new things and giving thanks to the One who gives good things to enjoy I’m beginning to celebrate life in ways I’d not known before. I’m more able to soak up and enjoy the goodness of the Lord and others in this place of joy. All of a sudden God creates in me a playful spirit full of gladness and freedom to be me as He truly intends.

What can you celebrate today? How are you going to celebrate?

Hope in Affliction and Sorrow

I am behind in various things. One of the areas where I fell behind was getting a blog out on October 23. For the past three years I’ve written a blog that honored the anniversary date of Mother’s death. The blog always centers on the last hour I spent with Mother on the day she died. And, it centers on something else: God and His Word.

I spent almost a month in Texas that October. Three of those weeks were at Mother and Daddy’s house. Mother had battled with Alzheimer’s disease for 8 years. She was in her final days. Hospice kept saying we didn’t have much time left with her. Most of the time during those last weeks, she was peaceful, there was very little pain. What a blessing that was.

Every morning after I awoke, I’d go into her room and check on her. Usually Daddy was still asleep in his bed next to her hospital bed, so I’d slip back out, go grab a cup of coffee and return to my room to spend quiet moments with God. However, on this particular morning four years ago, Daddy woke up early and went on into the den to read the paper. Since I wasn’t interrupting his sleep, I decided to just sit there with Mother.

For some reason, I opened my Bible to Psalm 119. And, for some reason I decided to read it out loud. It’s a long Psalm, but I read it all. I tired of sitting pretty quickly, so I walked around her room and read. I’d read sections at a time and then pray. These were powerfully sacred moments. They are moments I will never forget. Just as I finished the last verse, she took her last breath. At that moment her spirit left this earth and she was in the presence of her beloved Jesus.

A part of honoring Mother’s going “home to Jesus day”, is reading again the 176 verses of Psalm 119. I read these verses always anticipating that there will be a theme that will leap off of the pages. This year the theme is affliction and sorrow. The Psalmist knows life has afflictions and sorrows. He has first hand knowledge. He knows where help is found: The Word of God.

  • My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word.
  • My soul melts away for sorrow: strengthen me according to your word.
  • This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.
  • I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
  • Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.

We can be laid low in the dust as we grieve the death of precious loved ones. But, there are other things that bring intense sorrow and affliction too: exhaustion, burnout, confusion, broken relationships, shame, loneliness, debilitating illness, divorce, natural disasters, shattered dreams, job losses, addictions, sin, aging. The list could go on and on. Sorrow and affliction bring chaos and heart pain that can be indescribable. We’re never ready for these life altering events. We may find ourselves asking these questions: How will I get through this? Is there any hope? Will I ever find comfort?

Because of God, there is help. There is comfort. There is hope. His light will burst back through and lift us up from our broken state. It’s a given that we have seasons of suffering, but God in His marvelous goodness lifts us out of our despair. He uses His Word to give us back what seems has been lost for a season: The Joy of our salvation, Peace that passes all understanding, abundant Grace that keeps our eyes on Him.

As I’m passing through a new affliction, not having any idea of where this journey will take me, I cling to Jesus. I cling to hope. I cling to comfort from the Word, especially these words from Psalm 23: His rod and His staff, they comfort me.

What are some words of comfort you cling to during seasons of affliction?

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

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.