Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Heart Cries and His Responses

Another prayer story close to my heart.  Prayer is relationship with God.  We pour out the cries of our hearts and God changes us through it.  This is a story of how I cried out and God met me this weekend as I was at Allume.  I wonder where are you calling out and where God might be trying to meet you in ways you didn't expect.

***

This weekend I attended Allume. 


I left, Thursday, unsure of why I was going and what God would do in the midst of this bloggers conference.

Sunday, I returned home with my wonderings satisfied.

In between, was a lot of silliness, good conversation, learning, and blessed moments. 


It was toward the end of the newbie meet up.  I was standing on the edge of the hotel lobby, in a group that was conversing around me, lost in the middle of the loud din that hundreds of women talking around hard surfaces cannot help but make.  I began to zone out in all the noise wondering inside, “God what do you have for me here?”  

Silence seemed to follow the cry of my heart. 

I went through the rest of the evening overwhelmed and tired, finally heading back to my hotel room to sleep.

It was early Friday morning when I woke, unable to fall back to sleep.  I lay in bed trying to sleep and instead tossed over the words that crossed my mind.  They were words from Crossroads, a week ago, and Phil Vischer and Sarah Mae, the night before. 

The longer I wrestled with the thoughts and the more the ideas rose, I began to sense that God was answering my prayer in a very tangible way.  In this realization, I began to tuck away the ideas that were surfacing and was able to fall back to sleep for a few more hours before breakfast.

The themes that I became aware of in the wee hours of the morning continued to jump out at me in the sessions all through the weekend:

Where is your identity, Jessica?  What is most important to you in all of this?  Is it Me?

Where are the priorities in your life, Jessica?  Are they in finishing your next post or in loving the neighbor who is next to you in real life? 

I found God saying “I need to be most important.  And if you go through the day and find yourself drifting, drift towards real life not a virtual one.”

Over and over again, as speakers spoke, this was the message I needed to hear.

I have been taking these thoughts to heart and plan to be making a few changes around the way I blog. 

So, if you find that I’m not posting quite as regularly as I have been, know that I’m probably investing in the real life relationships around me—the new neighbors I have, family, friends, and our Crossroads community.  Know that I’m probably investing more quality time in my relationship with God.  Know that I am enjoying the gifts that He has given me in different ways, like enjoying writing for writing’s sake not just to get something posted tomorrow.  Know that I may just need to use my energy differently as change in life and my family is happening.

I still plan to share here in this space.  There has been much good that has come from obedience in beginning A Becoming Life.  For this reason, I believe by heeding God’s voice much good will happen in this time too, both on the blog and in real life too.


***

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we pursue God in wonder.  May we discover when we come to Him longing to see Him work it may happen in unexpected ways.  May we respond in obedience trusting that His way and His call is truly best.

Jessica :)

P.S.  The photos are from the Allume photobooth with my friends from Hearts Undaunted and Favored One. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I'm taking a break until Monday while I'm at the Allume conference. 

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend.  Take time to enjoy the fall colors and cool weather and the God that made it all.

Grace and Peace,

Jessica :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Digging Through the Grime

Jason and I are in the middle of moving into our new home.  As we do this we are also participating in “A Journey Home” with our family at Crossroads.  I am sharing a little bit about how the physical and the spiritual are matching up in life right now as we do both.  I hope we will all grow in the midst of this journey home.  You can read the whole of this journey series here.

***

One thing Jason and I noticed as we began to prepare for the move to our new home was how dirty it was.  It is not unusual to clean before you move into a new home. I have done that several times.  However, this was certainly the least clean place we have planned to live.  I am not sure how the family who lived here before us made themselves step into the grime and mold and mildew that would have touched their body in the shower.  I don’t think I could do it.

Yet, I wonder.  Is it easier to just live in our grime?


This week, in our journey home, we were invited to explore some things as it related to our fathers and how we grew up.  We were asked to think about three or four descriptions of our fathers or the parent who raised us.  Then we were to think about how these characteristics affected us.  From here, we followed a trail from the way we responded in the midst of our parental relationship to how it might influence our relationship with authority figures and our view of God. 

It was really helpful to consider this.

As I sat in my seat during the Saturday night service writing in my guide, I was surprised by what I learned and remembered about myself.

It was as I was thinking about my dad leaving my mom and our family when I was a junior in high school that I remembered how I felt.  I remembered the night he told us he was leaving and how I was disappointed in his failure to do the right thing.  I considered the bitterness that I experienced during college and how it was prayer that took the sting away to leave me just sad for what had been lost. 

As I pushed through these memories I uncovered one more, the way it felt when he was gone. 

I didn’t feel safe anymore. 

I was unaware that I had felt safe until the safety was gone.  I imagine it was a lack of physical safety as my mom would go to work at the hospital for her night shift, despite my siblings being in the home.  I think it was probably a lack of emotional safety too.  If family wasn’t safe, what was?

As I considered how this affects my relationship with authority figures and God it seems to me that it left me with trust issues, which I already struggled with due to some bad experiences with friends in the past.  It left me wanting to take control in some situations and feeling helpless in others.  I think this pretty well describes some aspects of my relationship with God.  I find it difficult to surrender and let go of control.

I do not mean to suggest that all of my trust issues stem from this one event, important as it was in my life.  We all have trust issues. 

They stem from the enemy of God planting seeds of doubt in each of our lives, just as he did with Adam and Eve: “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in the garden?” 

For us he might be asking any number of questions: "Are you sure you can trust God with your cares?", "Are you sure God isn't going to be angry when you tell him about the mistake you made?", "Are you sure that God will love you even though you failed?" or "Are you sure that God will not leave you stranded?"

As a result of the fall we are all spiritual orphans, looking for home.

In our small group this week, we were challenged to dig through that which has affected the way we relate to God to discover what is true about him.

I am considering how “God isn’t leaving.”


I am reading Psalm 9:10 over and over again trying to hide its truth in my heart.

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

As I do this, I am digging through the layers of grime in my own life coming from experiences and beliefs that I hold about God.  I am scrubbing through that which is false to claim what is true.

It is kind of like the hours I spent scrubbing the shower.  I rubbed through greens and browns and pinks to find the white solid surface underneath.  It took time to get through the grime, but a comfortable home, I want to live in, lay on the other side. 

This is true of seeking the truth about God.  His true character is worth discovering.  In Him, I find my real home.  I do not have to be an orphan.  I can claim my identity as adopted child.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.”  So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”  Galatians 4:4-7

I’m seeking truth and running for home.

***

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we consider how we relate to God and some of the ways we might have been affected by our experiences and past beliefs.  As we surrender these to the truth that God reveals to us in His word, may we find we come running home to him embracing sonship.

Jessica :)
 
P.S.  Thank you to my mother-in-law, Linda Holmes, for letting me use the photo she snapped while I was scrubbing down the tub in the bathroom :)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Quick Prayer

Prayer seems to be on my mind.  Whether it was the conversation about politics that began this or the awareness that I will be talking about prayer in a month with a young adults group, I am not sure.  Whatever the reason, this post is one of a number of prayer experiences I will be sharing with you over the next month or so.  I'm praying that you will be encouraged and maybe even challenged by it.  I still am.


She called as I was sitting in the car reading a book outside the gym. 

My friend, called to find out how the move went.  I told her we had just spent our first night in our new home.  I shared how there was still so much to be done.  She asked how Jason and I were doing, asking how she could pray.  I shared a few things close to my heart—preparing to share with the young adults group, the jitters that come from new people and places (excited as I am about Allume), as well as a few other things.

Then, she asked me, “Would you mind if we just stopped to pray, right now?”

“I would love that,” I answered.

So she prayed.  In my heart, peace fell across each care as she lifted her voice—joyous and thankful and delighted—like a song as she talked to God about every concern.

When she finished, she said, “I’m going to let you go now.  Take care.  We love you both.”

I thanked her and wished her a wonderful evening.

After she hung up, I looked at my phone.  It had been ten minutes—ten minutes of being known and cared for and loved as Jason and I were lifted before the Lord. 

It was a blessing.

In the moment, I was reminded that prayer is a wonderful opportunity to bless others. 

As we pray, we can begin to love others.  We can encourage and listen and lift them before the Lord.  I want to do more of that in my friendships.


 Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we pray and are prayed for by friends.  May we bless and be blessed, love and be loved. 

Jessica :)

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Good Way

Last week I picked up the “Who & What of Elections” guide from the library.  I wanted to begin becoming informed as a voter about the candidates and the issues that I will be asked to vote on in a few weeks. 

As I began reading the guide over breakfast, I was disappointed to discover there was not much helpful information for me about the candidates.  Whether it was the questions that were asked or the political responses that were a lot of fluff with little substance I found myself thinking that I needed more information.  I do plan to seek that out in the next few weeks. 

However, it leaves me wondering.  What is a person to do when they try to become informed and feel like they still do not have a good grasp of who they are voting for or what they are voting about?  How do we wade through all the campaign advertisements—negative or positive?  How do we see through the colored lenses of these things clearly?


Yesterday, I was finishing up the book Prayer: Finding the Hearts True Home by Richard Foster when I came across some words that resonated with me.

“We must turn a deaf ear to media caricatures and prayerfully discern the way of Christ amid the complex issues of our day.”

There are so many complex issues in the midst of this election cycle. 

In the midst of this, I do not believe there is one party or one candidate that represents the way of Christ in all of them. 

This makes me pause and consider each issue and each candidate with fresh eyes.  It makes me come to God in prayer. 

When I hear people firing off statistics and arguing in the middle of debates and advertisements, I am challenged to seek out more information and to not just go with what my emotions are telling me.  I am challenged to prayerfully consider what I find.

I am finding that I am trying to prayerfully listen and consider issues, leaving the way that our culture and the different media sources would like to shape the arguments behind. 

How might politics be different in our country if we operated in this way?  How might the way we engage in politics, in our own life, be different if we operated in this way?

“This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”   Jeremiah 6:16

As it gets closer to Election Day, I challenge you to keep this in mind as you consider how you will vote.

Let’s move into this election prayerfully.

And whatever happens in the midst of them, may we lift up our country in the weeks and months and years to come, confident that God listens to the prayers of His people and works in the midst of them to bring change.

***

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we submit our beliefs to the God that asks us to put our trust in Him.

Jessica :)

P.S.  Thank you to Jason for this wonderful photo from when we were at the USS Constitution awhile back :)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Imitating Jesus in Community

On Thursdays, I have been sharing a little bit about what I have been learning as I read through 1 John.

Recently, we began a section in 1 John that explores the idea of identity.  John identifies that some are children of God and others are children of the devil.  Key to identifying either has to do with their conduct and relationship to sin.

“Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.  The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.  Those who are born of God will not continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are:  Those who do not do what is right are not God’s children; nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:7-10 TNIV
John says a lot in these four verses.  As I read through each verse, a different thought or question came to mind about what it looks like to receive or respond to his words.

What stands out to me in verse 7 is what the Voice describes in its translation “The one doing the right thing is just imitating Jesus, the Righteous One.”  The one doing the right thing abides. 

It makes me pause to consider the relationships I have.  Am I surrounded by the kinds of people who do the right thing?  Will they encourage me to do the right thing? 

This is what I want in friendship.  This is the kind of friend I want to be. 

I do have these kinds of relationships with my husband and with my closest friends.  I am thankful for this.  I want to commit to continuing to live this way, mindful of it.


As I look at verse 8, I notice the contrast John makes between the devil and Jesus.  The devil has been sinning from the beginning.  The word beginning has to do with “the origin or the active cause of a person or thing” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary).   The devil is about sin.  Those who do what is sinful are aligned with the devil.  On the other side, you have Jesus appearing to destroy the work of the devil—to destroy sin.  He himself is righteous. 

The two are very much opposed to one another. 

I marvel at the idea of righteousness. “It is a state of being right or of right conduct.  It is said of God designating perfect agreement between His nature and His actions.  It is a standard for all men” (VINE’S Expository Dictionary). 

On the other side, sin is not the opposite of this righteousness.  Instead, it is a picture of “missing the mark.”  It is the idea of distorting that which was meant to be good.  It is just all wrong.  Things are not as they should be.  The active cause of the devil is sin—missing the mark.

To me, this verse really sets up the ideas within verses 9 and 10—a contrast between those who are children of God or children of the devil.  This is where I can begin to identify myself with one category or the other.  I am a child who lives righteously or I live as a child who misses the mark.

I like the way the Voice translates this.

“Everyone who has been born into God’s family avoids sin as a lifestyle because the genes of God’s children come from God Himself.  Therefore, a child of God can’t live a life of persistent sin.  So it is not hard to figure out who are the children of God and who are the children of the diabolical one:  those who lack right standing and those who don’t show love for one another do not belong to God.”

It makes me think about how I approach sin in my life.  Do I allow sinful habits to form?  Or am I repentant and seeking accountability for my actions when I struggle? 

As a child of God, with God’s “seed” remaining or abiding in me, I will be in the latter category.  Any other response is an indicator that I have never really been born of God. 

An honest response to these thoughts should not scare me; instead, it should help me honestly consider what God desires and what I want my response to Him to be. 

I want to be in right standing.  I want to leave a sinful lifestyle behind. 

This is a good place to be. 


I think about Andy Stanley’s Community study.  In it, he talks about commitment and conviction and how they can be in the right place and we can still fail to live up to them.  He talks about the need for community to step in and remind us of these things and help us when we struggle. 

He writes, “You can deceive yourself, but if there are people who know what’s going on in your life, you can’t deceive them as easily.  Self-deception is a powerful force but it loses its power in community. […]  Too many good people have drifted horribly because there was no one in their lives to help keep them on course.  It can happen to any of us” (33-34).
I need to make choices to surround myself with people who will help me—brothers and sisters who are seeking the same things.  I need to surround myself with friends who will encourage me in doing the right things.  I need friends who will help me to imitate Christ.

When we live in the midst of community who supports us, as we pursue Christ, we will not be led astray.

***

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we pursue Christ, surrounding ourselves with community that will support us and hold us accountable.  May we find that we become more like Christ and that our friends do as well.

Jessica :)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Journeying Towards Wholeness

Jason and I are in the middle of moving into our new home.  As we do this we are also participating in “A Journey Home” with our family at Crossroads.  I am sharing a little bit about how the physical and the spiritual are matching up in life right now as we do both.  I hope we will all grow in the midst of this journey home. 

***

This week, the large Bradford pear tree that was in front of our new home was taken down by a contractor.  The tall maple or oak in the backyard (I forget which, since I can’t yet look out the window to see it yet) was pruned.  These things needed to be done because they were causing damage to the roof—rubbing shingles away and allowing for water to seep in where it should not.


Like the tree rubbing on the roof, when we consider the way we operate and think about the world, sometimes we are surprised by the way we are affected by them.  This is what we explored during the small group experience of A Journey Home this week.

Jason and I gathered together with a group of couples whom we had never met before at Crossroads.  Our group was full of couples from different stages of life.  There was an engaged couple, several couples with young families, one couple with grandkids and then Jason and I, who are in-between all these.

As I think of it, I smile remembering the good fun of introducing ourselves with English accents and comparing the lengths of our thumbs.  I marvel at the way each person opened up to share deeply personal things about the stuff in life that keep us from feeling at home.  I have only known these people for a week and I already feel close to them.  I look forward to spending more time together with them.

I think about the descriptions list we were asked to consider.  I circled a lot.
 

We were instructed to pick one to explore.  I chose “I often feel jealous.”  My group asked me the question “Why” again and again to help me dig down to a place I’ve visited before, but need to be reminded of again and again.  At the bottom of my jealousy is the fear that God’s goodness is exclusive.  If he is good to someone else, he couldn’t possibly be good to me. 

Of course, this is not true.  But it is a lie I slip into believing if I am not careful.  I tell my group this.

I am sometimes jealous of the fruit in others lives because I do not bear the same fruit in mine.  The most freeing thing is when I stop to realize that these wonderful people are being who God created them to be and reaping the fruit of living surrendered and fully His. 

I can celebrate with others without the need to be jealous because I can live the same way—resting surrendered in God’s truth and love.  I will bear fruit too.  My fruit will be different than theirs, because I am a different person whose personality and gifts will combine in different ways.  This is okay.  It is also as it should be.

I repeat the truth to myself.   

“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”  Psalm 145:9

God’s goodness to others does not mean he will not be good to me.

I begin to take some thoughts captive and set the truth firmly planted in my heart.

It’s like the Bradford pear tree, really.  The contractors cut it down, but the stump was still there.  It was no longer causing damage, but a remnant was still noticeable from time to time.  The contractors came back today and ground it down to the ground.  They got rid of what was there so that something else can grow there later.

I wonder, as I dig out the roots of this falsehood, what beautiful truth-loving thing will begin to grow?

The spot in our yard will be filled with a native Ohio tree. 

Maybe the one in my heart will be full of a deep joyous love.

***

Grace and peace be our in abundance as we seek to replace lies we have bought into with the truth that God tells us is real.  As we do may we live free—freely surrendered in His presence, resting in His love.  May we reap the fruit of living as the person God has created us to be.

Jessica :)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Light A Candle

Prayer seems to be on my mind.  Whether it was the conversation about politics that began this or the awareness that I will be talking about prayer in a month with a young adults group, I am not sure.  Whatever the reason, this post is one of a number of prayer experiences I will be sharing with you over the next month or so.   
***

It was the second week of the Strong Challenge, time to begin a new topic and a new focus for the week. 

The card that introduced the upcoming week read, “When we pray, we open ourselves up to the life-changing conversations with God.  Prayer is meant to be more than an emergency flare to heaven in our times of need—it’s designed for us to connect with God on a real, intimate, everyday basis.  The “Pray” challenges give us a variety of creative ways to spend time in prayer.  Some may be surprising, others may take us outside our comfort zones—but they all point to the rich and life-changing possibilities of daily interaction with God.”

I flipped through the cards and picked a few to spend time with during the week. 

I grabbed one and tucked it away as I grabbed up my laundry and headed out to wash a few loads at my parents-in-law.  

When I arrived, the house was quiet.  It would be perfect for spending some time in prayer.  After putting the laundry into the washer, I placed my Bible and journal on the loveseat and settled in next to them, under a blanket.  I pulled out my challenge card and read.

“Light A Candle.  First, think of a hope you have—big or little, it doesn’t matter.  Write it down in your journal.”

I stopped and wrote down a few cares in my nearby journal. 

I continued to read.

“Then, light a candle, and as you do, share that hope with God in prayer.  Watch the flame and smoke rise up from the candle and envision your prayer rising to God.” 

I ran upstairs to look for a lighter.  I returned a few minutes later, to light the candle sitting on the coffee table in front of my seat.

I lit the candle and watched as the smoke puffed in the place where the flame had touched the wick.


I let my cares rise as the candle flickered. 

I took another look at the challenge card.  It read, “For centuries, lighting a candle has symbolized the offering up of a prayer to God.  The Bible reveals that the prayers of God’s people are precious to him, like a fragrant incense.”

I thought about this for awhile, looking up the Scripture reference, lost in the picture and this moment of prayer.

“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” Revelation 5:8
Then, I began to write about the experience.

Lifting hopes high
In the waxy scent of soft vanilla
Of dancing flame.
Prayers carried heavenward
As candle light
Flickers
Wavers
Stretches
High
Of releasing fears
Of dreams for one day
Of health for a dear one.
Each care
A puff of
Fragrant
Incense
Wafting
Into
The
Presence
Of
A
Holy
God.

I paused, content. 

The rise of my prayers on the inside echoing the rise of the candle smoke in front of me. 

I rested there in God’s presence, surrounded by His love, the way the aroma of vanilla filled all the air around me.

***

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we lift our prayers to the Lord.  Whether they are in the form of a lighted candle or the cry of our heart may we know that they rise before Him and take heart.

Jessica :)

P.S.  The Strong Challenge cards were developed by Crossroads.  As you read the quotes the language from them should be credited to their staff.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Acting Out Prayer

“Anthony Bloom writes, “A prayer makes sense only if it is lived.  Unless they are ‘lived,’ unless life and prayer become completely interwoven, prayers become a sort of polite madrigal which you offer to God at moments when you are giving time to Him.”  The work of our hands and of our minds is acted out prayer, a love offering to the living God.  -Richard Foster in his book, Prayer


This week…

May our actions be full of love.
May our words be full of grace and truth.
May all of our moments—waking in the morning, drifting asleep at night, and all the moments in between—be lived as acts of prayer.
May we discover that in so living we understand what Paul meant when he wrote to the Thessalonians “pray without ceasing.”

Grace and peace be ours in abundance as we do.

Jessica :)