Thursday, October 29, 2015

Creating Space for Grace to Flow

Kimberely is my friend. She is also a counselor and president of New Day Initiative, LLC. Some

counselors I connect with; some not so much. She is in the first group.

Our phone call was pre-arranged (1000 miles separate us). In a particular relationship I had hit a wall and needed her expertise. Our 30+ minute phone call was a game-changer. She is amazing.

Kimberely's habit is to start with prayer.
She listens to my current - and my plea for help.
She doesn't have solutions.
She does have questions, insightful questions.
She asks and she waits, silently.

Always - yes - always, God uses her prompts to minister deeply.

She asks again.

Her questions, not solutions create the space for God's grace to flow.

Once again I relax, smile, and breathe deeply.

One of my prayers for myself is that my questions and my silence will create space for God's grace to flow, that I would love well.

Cautiously she shared her story of her daughter-in-law, of the eggshells beneath her feet, and of her great frustration. The situation unresolved. My other friend listened quietly. Something melted in her; she got it; she'd been there. She even identified with the word "farce". Her words, "me too" bonded their friendship.

No solutions were offered; truly there were no solutions to give. There were no spiritual platitudes which would have distanced the friendship. There was only simple identification.
I get it.
I'm there too.
It's awful.
It hurts.
Me too.

It took humility.
It took vulnerability.
It took love.
And it created space for God's grace to flow.

I've heard it said that wordiness might be a symptom of not trusting God to work in the life of another.

Simple questions, or simply identifying don't require many words. And perhaps because of their few-ness, they create space for God's grace to flow.

I've experienced the other side too:

I share my story. And quickly, too quickly a solution or two is proposed. I thank my well-meaning friend and our conversation turns to the weather. Wordiness.

Or, she shares truth with me, God is sovereign. The truth is truly true. I know it and I didn't need the reminder. Did she not think I knew? Wordiness.

Or, she listens to my story and then explains the why of it to me; the obvious. I feel like a little girl, not a companion on the journey. Wordiness.

"Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
Proverbs 17:28

I'm learning the power of silence, the power of me-too, and the power of questions. My motive is not to be considered wise, my motive is to create space for grace to flow. Would you pray for me?

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."
Psalm 19:14

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dorene, Absent from the Body, Present with the Lord

I remember the last conversation we had standing in the front of the sanctuary that Sunday morning.

Both of us had moved away from California and both were back. Dorene and her husband Clarence moved back after a ten year hiatus serving with the Billy Graham organization. Bill and I were back for the weekend and Bill was preaching that morning.

I had my wife of the preacher hat on.

Dorene and I hugged in greeting. It was so good to see her again. I think she felt the same.
But there was a sadness about her. And she trusted me with it.

She spoke words of hurt. This woman who had a big heart for ministry to other women could no longer identify her place. Involved before her move in the women’s ministry was truly only the tip of her encouraging heart. Her smile invited trust; she listened; she prayed; she led.

It seemed to her, that was all history. Younger women held the positions she once defined herself by. Who was she now? Where did she belong?

I listened—kind of—all the while formulating my response.

I cringe remembering my words.

Oh, Dorene, no. You still have much to offer; you still are a great blessing—or some platitudes along those lines.

Really, what did I know? We were visiting for the weekend.

Our perceptions of reality, our feelings ARE TRUE FOR US—whether or not they are truly true. My words tried to negate her true.

Love is kind. I wish my words had been kinder; even, Oh Dorene, that must be so hard, would have been kinder.

God’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, merciful, sincere. Inviting her to tell me more would have shown wisdom and true concern.

Praying with her and for her right there in the midst of the growing congregation would have communicated care and that she is still important to me.

I did none of the above.

Her recent death brought this story back. My shame is real and is also fading. 

"Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble" Psalm 107:1, 2.

God is redeeming this story for me. I’m learning to listen better; I’m learning to be kinder; I’m learning to let my words be prayers.

Although I can’t speak for Dorene, like I’ve been vulnerable with you, she was vulnerable with me that morning. She didn’t find an understanding soul in me, but I bet she shared her feelings with others too. My guess is that she found a community of grace who loved her well in the midst of her hard.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

In the Cover of Your Presence

David was in a precarious place. 

David heard that the Philistines were in the city of Keilah and were robbing the threshing floor. Feeling responsibility, he inquired of the Lord as to whether he should attack the Philistines. He heard a yes.

The problem was however that his men were afraid of the Philistines and didn’t like this plan. David, listening to his men, again inquired of the Lord and heard the same response. And so they went down to Keilah and experienced a great victory.

But the story continues. Enter Saul.

Saul heard that David had come to Keilah and Saul was ready for war. The victory is fading in the fear of what's next. 

Once again, David prays. God’s answers led to great shame. Saul was coming after him and his army and the people of Keilah—those he had just protected—were planning to hand David and all his men over to Saul.

So David came up with an escape plan. They left Keilah and went wherever they could go hiding in the wilderness.

In those few verses there is victory and there is shame which led to hiding. And there is God whose character is on display and whose purposes are carried out through David.

This incident recorded in I Samuel 23:1-14 may well be what was in David’s mind as he penned the words of Psalm 31.

The shame sprinkled throughout Psalm 31--

               Because of my adversaries I have become a reproach, especially to my neighbors, v.11

               O LORD, let me not be put to shame, for I call upon you; v.17

 is offset by the abundant protection of God. The words refuge, rescue, redeemed, delivered, trust, steadfast love also appear multiple times.
Although difficult to see, in the above picture, half-way up or half-way down this cliff is an Eagle's nest, big enough to fill the back of a pick-up truck. In The Message translation, Psalm 31:2 reads, "Your granite cave a hiding place, your high cliff aerie (nest) a place of safety."

As I look up at that nest, safety is not the first word that comes to mind. It seems downright scary to me. Then I remember my husband's wisdom, safety is not the absence of danger, but the presence of the Lord.

But I especially find encouragement in verse 20, “In the cover of your presence you hide them from the plots of men;”

David found safety in the cover of His presence. Can you fill in the blanks with a piece of your story? When did you experience the cover of His presence?

Next Thursday, I’m sharing a piece of my story. A modern day story that could end in shame except that God is a redeeming, loving, rescuing God who … if I will trust … will show His love even in these places in the cover of His presence.

So, come back next Thursday for the rest of the story—or at least an illustration of how I have experienced the reality of Psalm 31. 

                      "Blessed GOD! His love is the wonder of the world. Trapped by a siege, I panicked. "Out of sight, out of mind," I said. But you heard me say it, you heard and listened."                     Psalm 31:21 and 22, The Message                                                                                                                                    

Thursday, October 8, 2015

You Don't Look Jewish!

Her disappearing friendly smile alerted me to her confusion …

You don’t look Jewish.

Keeping my smile, my words put her at ease. No, I’m a Christian. Our conversation continued to flow over the constant announcements of next flights and boarding groups.

She a Bible study leader and me on my way to facilitate one of my Sabbath-Living retreats affirmed that we had much in common.

Sabbath-Living is my name for the retreats I’ve been leading for the past several years. Sub-titled, Developing a Life-Style of Connecting with God, provides clues to the content of the time. Truly this is the heart of many, Christians and Jews alike, but how does that happen?

The retreats are anchored in a 500 year tradition called Lectio (pronounced lexio) Divina or Sacred Reading. Lectio was used extensively in the history of the Catholic Church and popularized by Ignatius of Loyola, an itinerant preacher and teacher, and spiritual director. In the past several years it is enjoying a come-back.

Because the laity didn’t have their own Bibles during Ignatius’ lifetime, the only way to be exposed to the word of God was to hear it read. To memorize it, you listened over and over again. And as you thought about what you were hearing, your prayers became a natural outflow from the words of scripture. You were developing a personal connection (a friendship) with God.

I love the goals of Lectio:
1.     1. To enjoy the presence of the one who is always present with us—God.
2.     2. To grow in your intimacy with God.
3.     3. To be transformed into His image by having the issues of our hearts dealt with in a godly way.

Historically, Lectio includes four parts:
1.       1.Reading, reading, and re-reading.
2.      2.Meditating, thinking about, questioning, pondering.
3.      3.Praying, a conversation with God.
4.      4.Contemplating by taking the truth you are reading, meditating on, and praying over and noticing how it applies it to your life. It’s the ah-ha, the oh-my, the bow on the package.

Over the years, many have benefited from and taken liberty to make lectio their own, to enhance their connection with God. One friend has added a 5th part, journaling. I follow her example. Another friend is developing her love for art journaling as the bow on her lectio package. Sometimes (not very often), I follow her example. A third friend has created Duco Divina or Sacred Doodling to enhance her times with God. 

I’ve dubbed my version of lectio, Sue’s S-C Plan.  I’ve added two pre-lectio pieces that I find enriching and deepening my time with God.

1.      Sit and Stare                                     Creation
This is a time of quieting my heart and enjoying God’s creation. It may last five minutes; it may last thirty. I don’t time it.

2.      Solitude and Silence                        Coffee (or perhaps a cuppa’ tea)
I truly love the quiet of this time. For my husband, silence is soft music in the background; for me, silence is silence. This is the necessary white space of readying my heart.

I’m not legalistic about these two pieces; they easily flow together. And they lead me to …
3.      Scripture                                            Communication (prayer)

As I practice my S-C Plan, my personal lectio, I’m experiencing …
4.      Stewardship                                      Conversion
I’m learning who God created me to be, and I’m growing in my Christian life.

I’m thankful for the Jewish tradition of Sabbath. I’m thankful for the Catholic tradition of Lectio Divina for providing a way to develop a connection with God. I’m thankful for my Protestant heritage encouraging me to know God personally. And I’m thankful for how all of these come together to enhance my friendship with God.

What about you … what is most meaningful to you as you connect with God?

And let me know if I can facilitate a Sabbath-Living retreat for you and your friends.

“Sabbath observance (is) one of our most honest and practical indicators of authentic religious faith. The extent and depth of our Sabbath commitment is the measure of how far we have progressed in our discipleship and friendship with God.”
-        Living the Sabbath, Norman Wirzba

“I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is baby content." Psalm 131:3, MSG