Category: Practices (page 1 of 24)

When God’s Answer to Prayer Looks Different Than we Expect

It seems like infertility comes up in at least half of the conversations I’m a part.

Or, someone mourns the death of a dream – what feels like unanswered prayer.

I’ve never dealt with infertility personally. I can’t begin to understand the depth of pain, confusion, and frustration that couples experience. But I do know what the death of a dream feels like. I can recognize the expressions of weariness, longing, and “what’s wrong with me that God doesn’t answer this prayer that I feel like is coming from a pure place?”

I have godly, faithful friends who have prayerfully entered into IVF or adoption. They have dreams, but open hands, desiring to be responsive to God’s leading. They do their part. They are responsible. They read and ask questions and look at finances and trust God. They pray for guidance and clear direction and step forward in faith.

And then, and then…. There’s no pregnancy, or no adoption match, or the adopted child endangers the rest of the family and has to be released to a different home.

And my friends are left asking, “Whaaat? God we trusted You!!! We thought we were following your leading!!!! Where did we go wrong?  A + B is supposed to = C! What is wrong with OUR MATH? Don’t you love us? Aren’t you a good God? We thought you were!”

It saddens me when I see people grieving and at the same time, beating themselves up for “Reading God wrong.”

As followers of Jesus we really want to be honest about the desires of our hearts. We also really want God’s direction and want to submit to His will that may look different than ours.

Many years ago, when John and I had been married for a few years and were serving a church in a suburb of Chicago, we began to feel that our time there was coming to a close. We prayed and began to be open to churches that would write John asking him to consider being their pastor.

When I reflect on this time, I think we were as sincere in seeking God’s will as we possibly could be. Our motives were both as pure and as selfish as human motives can be.

We sought counsel from other wise believers. We asked questions. We thought we were listening well, but who knows.

We had interviews with several churches over time and ended up sensing a called to Washington D.C. where John would be the executive associate pastor at a large church. We prayed a LOT about this.

The senior pastor and his wife were godly leaders who would mentor us and became close friends. But other than that, NOTHING was as we expected. NOTHING was easy.

We moved away from our home and family for the first time.

We had no money and moved to the city with the highest cost of living at the time.

I went 8 months pregnant with our second child (the first – Katy – only 19 months old).

We knew no one and moved to a fast-paced, power-obsessed, transient community.

The church, in an urban area drew people from a wide radius averaging 30 minutes away, so we didn’t see the people from our faith community in our neighborhood during the week.

Here’s the thing… We prayed like crazy, but the circumstances didn’t change during the years we lived in D.C. It was just HARD. And it left us questioning, “Did we MISS something, Lord? Is THIS hard thing really Your will?”

I’ll certainly have questions when I get to heaven, but in the meantime, here’s what I see:

  • Circumstances may be hard, but God is still faithful. Rest in His character more than you wrestle with your circumstances. During our time in D.C. He knit us together as a family and drew us to Himself in dependance.

  • Because the answer to our prayer doesn’t look like we expect doesn’t make it any less a good answer.

Mt. 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

  • God’s will isn’t necessarily the easy thing. It isn’t necessarily the hard thing. He is God. His ways just aren’t our ways. (ugh!)
  • God is not a gleeful trickster with ONE right door for us to choose. There may be more than one choice that will be pleasing to Him, and IF we get it “wrong” He can still redeem it. He is the God of infinite chances.

“Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.” Richard Rohr

 

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What’s Your Super-power?

“If you could have any ‘super-power’ what would it be?”

That was the ice-breaker question posed at a women’s gathering I attended. Peals of laughter could be heard from different small groups around the room as women shared a desire for everything from a “Bewitched” nose twitch to clean their kids’ mess, to a cloaking devise, to the ability to be “beamed up” out of uncomfortable situations.

It’s a fun question to think about, but unfortunately we often seriously compare ourselves to others and think “Oh…I wish I had THAT ‘super-power’!” The gifts and talents others have can seem so “SUPERior” in light of our own that can feel so ordinary.

There are two reasons comparison is so dangerous. When we compare, the result is either pride or despair. Neither are pleasing to God, right? 

As women, I think we’re more prone to the despair end of the spectrum. Satan’s kryptonite seems to be that diabolical little word “as”.

He whispers,

“Not as pretty as…”

Not as good a mom as…”

“Not as popular as…”

“Not as smart as…”

Recently, my small group did a book study, and there is one line from Genesis 3:11 that we have gotten in the habit of repeating to one another when we feel discouraged or “less than”,

This is from Genesis 3: 9-11  when God is talking to Adam:

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked;so I hid.”

 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?

God knows HE  didn’t tell Adam he was naked.

Is the message you’re hearing really from God? Or is it from someone else? 

After all, God is the One who said you are fearfully and wonderfully made, the One who said He has created good plans in advance for you to do, the One who said He has called you by name, you are His – His chosen, His beloved, the one He sings over…

So today, instead of comparing, let’s remember this…

Four Words About One Word and Spiritual Growth

 I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first dayuntil now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:3-6

Are you ever a little spiritually ADD?

Feel like it’s one step forward and two steps back in terms of spiritual growth?

Have you forgotten your One Word ? The one you prayed about and was sure God was going to use to make 2017 the year of AMAZING JESUS AWESOMENESS?

Well sister, here are my three words for you. YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE.

I checked in with some from our blog community about how their “One Word” focus is going this year and thought I’d share their thoughts with you.

Meghann: My word for the year was, “NARRATIVE.”  I really regret it now because this looks like it’s going to be a long road to travel, to trust, and really listen to a different narrative about myself.
 
I know the truth is that I’m not “weak and pathetic” because I’m really broken down, and I’m not “making it worse” by not just pushing past it.  But, ugh.  Would be nice if I could just wake up one morning and say, “What was that?  Moving on…”

 

A reader who lives in the mountains in the middle of Jamaica sent me a note after my last post on my “one word” .

“My 2017 word is LIGHT and I am not doing too badly with it, trying to be intentional at least once weekly.
I chose to use a separate journal and am glad I did. Using the word in my centered prayer practice which I’m just learning, is helpful too. He is truly the Light and brings light to my understanding as I seek Him.”

Heather: My word is BRAVE – learning what brave looks like when I need to say “no” even to good things or when it means disappointing someone…Learning that brave looks and feels different than I sometimes think it will/does, and learning how to be brave in situations that are beyond ME.

Carrie: My word(S) (because you know I can never choose just one) is “YOU WILL”. I need to be steadfast in that God will provide, God will fight for me, God will lavish love on me and those around me, God will move among our students and our church, God will meet me wherever I’m at.

To me, it is more than “God can“. I need to believe and live out of the truth that he will because he is FOR me and good to me. I’ve struggled with believing that over the years. I’ve thought He was good in nature and good to other people and good for me but not always good to me. The verses that I was drawn to on this were Mark 11:22-25 and Ephesians 3:20-21.

Theresa: I couldn’t decide on a word…I’m in such a period of survival. But I do feel now like I’m almost to the top of this mountain and looking forward to what God has in store!

 Molly: I got a pretty notebook and I chose a word but I don’t remember what it was! 

Jesus is about infinity do-overs!

So you see?? You are not alone! It’s ok if you didn’t choose a word and it’s ok if you want to start now! It’s ok if you’ve stumbled a bit this week.
 
 What about the rest of you? Share your experience in the comments.

Use Your Words

We make a lot of runs to our Twin Cities airport, so I’m used to passing the sign that says:

This is a caution…a warning we’re all familiar with since 9/11.

If you see something suspicious, say something and keep us all safe, right? Speak up!

“Use your words.” as we say to toddlers.

But I thought of that sign yesterday as I was leaving Starbucks. The barista paid me a compliment and I was beaming.

He didn’t need to say anything, and it cost him nothing. It made my day.

I thought of all the times I see someone wearing a top I think is cute, or I observe a teen being kind and polite, or a mom being uber patient with her littles… I want to be the person who always speaks up.  The one who says something positive to a stranger or a friend.

I heard a wonderful story the other day about Mohamed Sanu, an Atlanta Falcons football player who received this note from someone who took the time to speak up –  a family sitting behind him on a flight:

This family used their words to affirm someone they would never see again.

Life is hard. There is so much to discourage us out there, right? Let’s use our words to be each other’s best cheerleaders!

If you see something (positive), say something today.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thes. 5:11

What Does God Have to Say to You Today?

I’m a lake girl. I grew up learning to swim in a lake in Wisconsin that was big and deep and dark blue and often the wind whipped the waves into a frenzy. But it was a place I felt safe, treading water or diving under into the silent calm beneath the surface.

Friday I was not on a lake, but by the Pacific Ocean.

I walk along the beach wrapped the early morning air, cool and damp. The spray of crashing waves reaches out to tickle me every once in awhile. Fog shrouds the mountains encircling the bay, making them look like a watercolor painting or a dream – fuzzy in the distance.

My prayer is one common to me on my walks.

“Lord, what do you have to teach me about myself and Yourself today?”

There’s rarely an immediate answer, but rather, like an old-school photo developing in a water tray, something gradually emerges.

Usually.

I’m encouraged by this promise as I walk:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33:3

Sometimes the picture that develops is heart-warming… encouraging. Sometimes it’s convicting.

Sometimes it feels profound, but often, like today, it’s just a series of small reminders as I reflect on the power of the ocean before me.

The Lord whispers, “You can let the waves wreck you or refine you.”

Lord, how powerful is your love!

The waves of Your grace relentlessly pour over me like the tide coming in.

Help me not to resist the waters of Your correction that smooth my rough edges like polished sea glass on the shore.

Your faithfulness teaches me I can remain safe in storms.

Do you not realize who I am? Do you not fear Me? Do you not shake in the presence of the Eternal, the Creator of all things? 

It is I who has drawn for all time the boundaries of the sea.

The waves may crash and roar against the sand, But the waters do not cross the lines I have drawn. Jeremiah 5:22 (Voice)

“God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.” Psalm 46:1-3

When we are mature – attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ – “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14 (NIV)

What are you learning about yourself and God today?

 

One Ridiculous Secret & 2 Questions to Revitalize Your One Word 2017

What’s your One Word for 2017?

It’s March. Do you even remember it?

Don’t have one? No worries.

I thought it was a brilliant idea the first year I chose One Word instead of making a New Year’s resolution. God used the word Fearless powerfully to form me that year, but since then?  Not so much.

I tend to choose a word and then forget it. To figure God will magically do something without my attention.

Hashtag fail.

The difference is that first year I truly showed up. I invested.

This year my word is STRONG.

I put a prompt on my calendar once a month to review my word, but honestly, other than listing some verses, I’ve ignored it…

Until the other day when I stumbled across a video post from another writer who had struggled similarly. She suggested what I’ve also done (VERY inconsistently) – going through Scripture, using Bible Gateway to check out passages with her word, BUT….(here’s the ridiculous secret part):

SHE BOUGHT A SPECIAL PRETTY JOURNAL just for her One Word! 

So I did too.

Sound ridiculous that that should make a difference? Well sometimes we’re ridiculous people!

So the other day I showed up with my pretty new journal (separate from my ordinary one). I started with the first verse using the word STRONG I found with Bible Gateway and I asked 2  questions:

  1. What does this verse tell me about God?
  2. What does this verse tell me about myself?

And then I journaled a prayer about applying it to my life.

A couple of days later I was sitting with a friend who is in the depths of despair. As I listened to her, my mind went to my one word. I silently prayed for God’s strength in her weakness, in my weakness.

Strong. Not me alone, but God in me. Not you alone, but God in you.

What about you? If you’ve chosen a One Word how have you engaged with God around it? What has He been teaching you?

The Discomfort of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, and as evidenced by my “Spring it Up” post on Monday, I’d really prefer to focus on the positive than face my sin and Jesus’ sacrifice.

I’ve shared before and before that I’m pretty much a failure at Lent. Like John says, I’m more of a Christmas than Easter girl. Could we skip over the Lent chapter please?  But there’s no rebirth without death, no salvation without facing my sin, so I continue to try to enter in, to talk to God. This is a repost from a few years ago…

As I mentioned the other day, we’re on vacation in Florida and the other morning we decided to attend an Ash Wednesday service at a lovely little Episcopal Chapel near where we’re staying.

I was on high alert from the moment we entered because I’m not Episcopalian and I was sure I was going to mess up and kneel at the wrong time, or not know the secret handshake that would get me communion, or ask forgiveness for my “debts” instead of my “trespasses”.

I took my cues from a girl across the aisle who clearly knew the liturgical ropes, bowing to the Bible when it went by and making the sign of the cross on her forehead, lips, and heart.  I was fascinated.

Like I said, I’m not Episcopalian and I’m not Catholic either, but by turns throughout my life I have been disdainful towards, curious about, and, in the past five years, enriched by many of  their practices.

When I was growing up all I knew was that the Catholic kids went to St. Petronille for church (named after a guy who must have been on the JV team of saints because I’ve never heard of him since and neither has my husband who did grow up Catholic).  They got to get out of school early on Wednesday to go to Catechism and got to eat fish on Friday.  We never had fish in my family.  So they were special and kind of mysterious to me.

On Wednesday, while I still struggled to own the words of liturgy in a way that was meaningful, I deeply appreciated the silence, the reverence, and the simplicity of a worship gathering full of Scripture.  These guys really do repentance big time!

Anyway, all this has got me thinking about Lent and the question many people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

Confession:  As far as I can remember I’ve never given up anything for Lent.

It’s just not been a part of my spiritual tradition.  And frankly, when I have considered it I’ve always thought “Well I could give up Starbucks if I wanted to, but I don’t have to so I won’t.”  I am so not into sacrifice.  I realize this exposes one of the idols I daily pray to relinquish – the idol of comfort.  Ugh!

I know it’s easy to abuse this practice…make it a badge of honor, a “work of righteousness”, an end instead of a means.  But, I’ve been reading about it and I’m wondering if it might be a good spiritual practice for me, identifying with Jesus in some small way, this voluntary sacrifice stuff.  I’m cringing even as I write this.  I find myself thinking, “Could I pick something I like, but don’t like too much?  Kind of ease into this maybe?”

I want to know… What is experience with giving up something for Lent?  Does it help you to see your sin and become more like Jesus?

If you’re reading this on email or on your phone and want to comment, just click on the title and then scroll down!

Couple quotes on Lent…

“Lenten disciplines help us to abstain from the daily distractions that prevent us from seeing and naming reality correctly. As we allow some of the external trappings of our lives to be stripped away, we can return to a truer sense of ourselves and a deeper pursuit of God.” Ruth Haley Barton

“Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy.  Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”  Ann Voskamp

 Check out another great article on Lent by Ruth Haley Barton here! 

Spring It Up!

Going to college in Texas absolutely ruined March for me.

All of a sudden I discovered the secret that had been diabolically hidden from me all my life: In most of the country SPRING COMES IN MARCH!!

It is bluebonnets and cherry blossoms, lemon bars and strawberries, and the sweet aroma of honeysuckle drifting in through open windows, and THERE IS HOPE STREWN EVERYWHERE LIKE CONFETTI!

In Minnesota, March is the cruelest time of the year. It brings to mind a totally different spin on the phrase “March Madness”.

WE HAVE MORE SNOW IN MARCH THAN ANY OTHER MONTH.

WE  GIVE UP ALL HOPE OF EVER SEEING THE SUN AGAIN IN OUR LIFETIME.

via GIPHY

March is a perpetual month of Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days, which is why I decided we need a dash of inspiration and a pinch of sparkle. How about a Spring It Up Challenge to get us through March?

There are no rules, just a prompt for every day. Do one day or all. Do alone, or with friends. Get creative! Have fun!

Share on Instagram with the hashtag #springitup if you want.

Spring It Up Challenge!

  1. Wear something pink – bright pink or blush pink, lipstick or scarf, shirt or tie…anything counts.

2. Celebrate! Invite friends over for a “March will NOT defeat us!” potluck. Ask each person to bring a food that reminds them of spring (or summer) and have them share why. Choose the date today.

3. Clean out one closet, drawer, or bookshelf. Make room for Spring!

4. Be a joy-bringer. Smile at every stranger you pass. Let others go first – through doors, in lines…

5. Write a note of affirmation to someone. Add some confetti before you seal it up 🙂

6. Go shopping for one warm-weather item – sandals, swimsuit, new top, outdoor entertaining items…

7. Hug at least 3 people today.

8. Buy yourself a bunch of flowers.

9. Put on music and dance!

10. Write out Isaiah 58:11 and reflect on it. Which words do you need most?

11. Take a flower bulb to a friend who needs hope to grow.

12. Wear something the color of sky and sea.

13. Splurge on a donut with sprinkles.

14. Take a walk at sunrise or sunset. Breathe deeply.

15.   Bake something fun and springy and bring it to share with your colleagues or staff at church or a non-profit.

16. Surprise someone with a bouquet of helium balloons

17. Make a new recipe with a green ingredient – avocado, lettuce, asparagus, mint chip…

18. Find 10 things to be thankful for today. Say them out loud as you notice them. Write them in your journal.

19. Put a happy, colorful screen-saver on your phone.

20. Take a picture of one thing/person/experience that brings you joy and post it online.

21. Grab a friend or your spouse and go out for an ice cream cone.

22. Make hamburgers on the grill for dinner (no matter how cold it is!)

23. Get out colored pens or pencils! Letter and/or illustrate Psalm 36:5. Post a picture!

24. Buy a funny card to send someone.

25. Plan a dream vacation or weekend getaway. Even if it’s a hope for the future, get online and look at pretty pictures.

26. Make/eat something with strawberries today – yogurt parfait, green salad with strawberries, strawberry smoothie…

27. Create a Pandora or Spotify station of summer tunes.

28. Call a friend who is life-giving.

29. Buy a beautiful magazine on one of your passions with images that spark your imagination.

30. Buy coffee for a stranger.

31. Google  the song “Knee Deep” by the Zach Brown band featuring Jimmy Buffet – play and sing along!

Click here for a shortened version of this calendar of inspiration to print up and put on your fridge!

If you’re reading this on email or on your phone and want to comment, just click on the title and then scroll down!

Now go for it! Share on Instagram with the hashtag #springitup.

 

 

 

 

 

The Air You Breathe

Recently one of my closest friends was in a crisis situation – the worst day of her life – and in the midst of the chaos, as she was trying to make hard decisions, she had the wisdom to say, “I need to put on my own oxygen mask first.”

You’ve heard this one MILLION times on the pre-flight safety spiel, and have probably heard it as a metaphor for our spiritual rhythms.  

My friend was at a crucial juncture and knew she needed strengthening for what was ahead when family members and others would be needing a lot from her. She knew she couldn’t give what she hadn’t first received.

The other day I was feeling really down and I couldn’t figure out why. I texted a close friend who asked: “Are you tired?”

My first answer was, “No.”

After some reflection I texted, “Well, yes, but I shouldn’t be.”

And then after a little more reflection… “You know…I haven’t been doing a TON, but I realize it’s all been really draining relational stuff. Hmm…”

I realized I was just a little “out of breath”.

Our ability to give good to others comes from the good we first receive from God.

Here’s the thing… I think some of us are putting on masks that pump noxious gas into our systems. We primarily breathe in rants on social media and we absorb raunch and obscenities over TV and movies.

And some of us are putting on masks filled with sleeping gas. We inhale escapist stuff that isn’t real – isn’t pure oxygen, but rather lulls us into false complacency.

But what are the life-giving masks we need to choose?

The love of God is the oxygen we need to do good work in the world. If you want to bring heaven to earth you will need the oxygen the refreshes and renews.  Without breathing deeply of His love we are in danger of sucking in and spewing out bitterness, anger, and criticism, especially in these politically contentious days.

This is not an easy deal! Can we help each other?

What does putting on your own oxygen mask first mean for you today?  

There are a couple of apps that have been helpful to me – Centering Prayer app and Pray as You Go app. Both provide a short portion of Scripture and silence for reflection.

What are the ways you breathe deeply of life-giving relationships, experiences, and practices? 

 here

5 Strategies for Anxiety

I’ve always seen myself as a strong person.

I’m up for a challenge. I don’t get scared. I’m not timid. I travel the world, will talk to anyone, and am always up for an adventure. Given that, I was really caught off-guard a few years ago when seemingly out of nowhere, I experienced a physical feeling of absolute terror. I felt like I was hyper-ventilating…out of control…racing thoughts…A panic attack?

“This is not ME!” I wanted to shout.

As I mentor young women, the most common confession I hear from them is that they are dealing with some degree of anxiety. It is hardly surprising given the speed of our lives, the conflict in our nation, and the 24/7 bombardment of noise. Add in the gray drear of February in MN and you have a perfect depression cocktail!

I know there’s no quick fix, and I’m not a trained therapist, but I thought I’d share what I tell myself and others when anxiety or depression creep around like a stealthy jaguar waiting to pounce.

  1. Get help. You are not alone. There is no shame in what you’re feeling. Set up an appointment with your doctor and a Christian counselor. Do your part (including getting medication if that’s what your doctor recommends) and trust God to do His.
  2. Slow down – say “no”, observe Sabbath, get sleep. What are the guard rails you have in place to protect yourself?
  3. Turn off the things that amp your anxiety – news, tv. books. Pay attention to what’s going on when you are most anxious.
  4. Lean in to relationships, experiences, and practices that bring life and peace. Make a list now. Praise music, exercise, an encouraging friend, getting outside? Our friend Mark Batterson reminds me:
  5. Affirm the truth. Satan is a lying liar and can distort anything. What are the lies you hear in your head when you’re most anxious? “You’re worthless”, “You can’t do this”, “You’re all alone – this is all on you” ? List them and then go to God’s Word and write down statements of truth (1 Peter 2:6; Psalm 32:7; Psalm 3:3;  Psalm 51:12; Philippians 4:7; Psalm 71:20;  Psalm 41:11; James 1:2-5; Psalm 37:23-24; 1 John 4:4; Hebrews 4:16; 1 Kings 8:28;  Psalm 91:4; James 4:7-8)

Lastly, a couple of resources for anxiety reducing practices:

Abide is a guided prayer app that I use. You can choose the topic, choose background music (or a rushing stream like I have), and the person praying (there are definitely some I like better than others). Some of the prayers are more like Lectio Divina, and some are Examen prayers.

Breath prayer – Breathe in a name for God. Breathe out the desire of your heart. Example: Prince of Peace…Calm my anxious heart.

Those are my thoughts. What would you add? What has been helpful to you?

 

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