Morning Walk

Often times, it’s the simple, everyday habits that draw me to God. Something as common as walking or breathing can become a wordless prayer.

Exploring poetry has helped me think about the proper economy of words — how sometimes not saying something is more powerful than trying to put all my thoughts to words.

So, here’s a poem… maybe as simple, and profound as… breathing.


footsteps

 

 

foot falls on asphalt.

arms pump in rhythm

to my

heart beat.

 

lips part to murmur

prayers – in and out –

raised

to

God.

 

Getting Through

How strange prayer is.  Sometimes it feels like God is right in the room with me, hearing my heart, leading the way.  Sometimes I feel like God and I are just missing each other — I’m not getting through.

It reminds me of how I felt flying into Rio de Janeiro a few years ago.

RioLuggage

The flight went smoothly enough… until we landed at the airport.  My co-worker, Denise, and I sailed through customs and walked out into a crowd of greeters.  As we scanned the sea of expectant eyes, not one pair looked back at us with recognition.  Our friend, Janie, who had asked us to come to Brazil to train her new music staff, was simply not there.  So, we gathered our luggage and stood in a conspicuous place.  After a half hour of anxious waiting, we decided we needed do something.

So, we prayed.

God you know where Janie is, you know where we are.  Please help us find each other.

Our cell phones were dead, but we found a bank of pay phones.  They looked equipped to take credit cards.  I swiped, but nothing happened.  I swiped again, nothing.  A man using the phone next to me pantomimed that the phone didn’t take credit cards.  We needed to buy a prepaid phone card.  So, after more pantomiming and broken English with a security guard and the women at an airport pharmacy, I finally purchased the critical calling card.  All the while, Denise stood sentry in the airport, on the lookout for Janie.

I had three phone numbers for our friend.  Two cell numbers and a home number.  I tried the first cell number and only received the Brazilian equivalent of the Verizon operator. The second number rang and rang and rang.  No luck.  I tried each number again.  Nothing.  Reluctantly, I dialed the land line, praying for someone to answer the phone, but not wanting it to be Janie.  I knew that she lived at least an hour from the airport.  As the phone rang, I whispered, “She better not be home, she better not be home.”  To my surprise a young woman answered the phone.

“Janie?”

“No. blah, blah” – something in Portuguese.

“Do you know where Janie is?”  I formed each word slowly.

Hesitation. “I – don’t – speak English.”

“Yes, you do.  You just did!”  Finally someone to help me!  “I am Julie.  I’m at the airport.  Do you know where Janie is?”

Pause. “Janie airport.”

“We can’t find her,”  I answered, trying to hide the desperation in my voice.

Silence. “Oh, OK.  I call.  I tell her call you.  Number?”  So I gave her the phone number of the pay phone, praying that she had been taught numbers in the English classes she had obviously taken.

Soon, the pay phone rang and on the other end I heard … Janie.  Contact!  She hadn’t forgotten us.  She wasn’t lost.  She had been waiting in another section of the airport all this time.

Ten minutes later, Janie greeted me with “Hey Julie, baby!”  She and her friend Maita were hugging us and throwing our bags in her car.

JanieMe

It was a rough landing, but finally, we had arrived.

 

See how that’s like prayer?

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like I’m getting through.  Like I have the wrong number, or I just connect with an automated operator at the other end.  Does God read pantomime?  Do I need a translator?

But really, God sees what I don’t.  He wants me to trust him to work it out in his timing.  I’m learning to do that.  And soon I know I’ll hear, “Hey Julie, baby!  I was here all the time.”

 

…   …   …

I linked this story up with Jennifer Dukes Lee at #TellHisStory.  This is good stuff!

 

Beyond the blue

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourself to be my disciples.  John 15:7-8

 

Do you see the flow?

Remain in Jesus… ask… given.

Father’s glory… fruit… disciples.

Earlier in this passage, Jesus clearly says that we will only bear fruit by remaining in Him, that we can do nothing apart from Him.  That’s a spiritual truth that’s so much easier to understand than it is to live out!

But the flow of this passage separates the remaining and the bearing with asking, receiving and Fathers’ glory.  God’s glory. He is glorified in the asking.  He is glorified in fruit bearing.

God’s glory — His shininess, His brightness, the brilliance of who He is comes forth more clearly when I ask Him “whatever I wish.”

Amazing.

Why don’t I ask more?

When the sky’s the limit, it’s hard to know where to start.

First, I want to know Jesus more.  The remaining, abiding, staying He speaks of… it often alludes me.  In the quiet of the morning, when my thoughts are accompanied by the tick of the wall clock and the hum of the frig, even then, it’s work to keep my mind and my heart fixed on Him.  I wander.

Then, when the day becomes crowded with grocery lists, laundry, and algebra, how do I then really remain in Him?  Short words and judgmental attitudes crowd Him out.

Second, I want to ask for more — fruit. Because, it seems that the fruit I bear is what points others to Jesus.  The fruit I bear is my marker that I belong to Him.  The fruit I bear comes to play in my relationships — not my bible knowledge or how many years I’ve been on the ‘payroll’ at Cru. The proof that I belong to Jesus resides in my love and joy and peace, my patience, kindness and goodness,  and my faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

…   …   …

So, I’ll start here with my asking… Father, I want to know how to remain in Jesus.  I want you to be glorified in me and through me.  I want the fruitful life you promise to those who follow you… not just for me, but for my husband and my boys.  Show us, Father, what this life looks like.

It starts today.  Here in the quiet, teach me to “remain.”  I ask for it all, Father.  All the fruit that you are glorified to give, the sky and beyond.

 

What’s in a Name?

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  Matthew 1:23

 

The prophet long ago delivered a wild prediction — a virgin giving birth.  And an even wilder promise — God is with us.

What about the circumstances of a virgin bearing a child requires a name like Immanuel, God with us?

The promised nearness of God… God approaches the pure and innocent.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  The untainted, unjaded, unscathed heart welcomes God, believes the hope of “God with us.”  God has not abandoned us.  He is near.

freestockphotos.com

But history passed thousands of years from the time Isaiah uttered those words to the day God fulfilled them.  The people waited, hoped, longed for the one who would come and ransom them from their captors.

And they didn’t always wait well.  They grumbled.  They succumbed to outside pressures and forsook the calling to be God’s people.  In their waiting they grew impatient, they wandered, and became enslaved.

I’m know something about waiting.  Having been pregnant three glorious times, I know the build of anticipation, the hopes and fears of all the months of changing body and growing life within.  I know the thrill of birth, the joy of the actual arrival… and the new set of hopes and fears that come with the bundle of energy called “baby.”  Immanuel showed himself each time; God was with us.  He is still with us providing the wisdom and patience to see these boys into men.

But the waiting I’m learning about now won’t culminate in a new little boy to love and care for.  It’s a different kind of waiting with new anxieties and fears.  It’s a waiting for direction, clarity, a path to be revealed that is good and honors God’s call on our lives.  So far, Immanuel has been silent.

What if we get to the end of this year in Orlando and Immanuel has stayed silent and the path elusive?  What if we come to the end of this journey without clear direction as to what’s next? What then?

I guess we can take a cue from the way Mary and Joseph handled the challenge of being the couple God selected to fulfill this wild prophesy.  Notice the pronoun — “they named him Immanuel.”

Even in the prediction, God promised the unity of mind that the couple would need as they found themselves in the midst of God’s plan.  They would need to rely on each other as they walked the difficult road ahead of them.  And they would need the promise of His presence.  “God with us” — we are not alone.

O Father, as you reveal your plan to us, as we wait with expectation, give us the fatih to walk in obedience, hand in hand.

Thank you for the promise wrapped in your name, Immanuel.

Wrapped

This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.   (Luke 2)

 

I have to find comfort here — in the baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.  The absurdity and simplicity brings peace.  “Peace on earth,” the angels said.  They said he is “Savior,” the Messiah.

But the morning after the shooting of 20 school children and 8 adults in a small Connecticut town, is “peace on earth” really possible?

I’ve read stories of the selfless school principal who entered the line of fire, the brave teachers who locked their students in closets and bathrooms, the terrified children who cried and said, “I don’t want to die, I just want Christmas.”  They have become the unwilling cast of players in this drama we share as a nation.  As the story unfolds, mothers, fathers, siblings, teachers, spouses watch with deep sadness and grief.

photo from USAToday on-line

Oh, I can’t imagine the pain those families must be feeling.  A knife-piercing, iron-searing pain that severs life and hope and joy.  The questions swirling, unanswered, would hound me, refusing me rest… or comfort.  I would want to wrap myself in a blanket and just cry.   I would want my husband to wrap his arms around me and just squeeze.

I know what it’s like to have questions hovering in the air.  I know a bit of the pain of unjust and unexplained bleeding… but this… this tragedy… is just so sad.

 

It reminds me of another sad story that occurred at the time of Jesus’ birth.  The gospel of Matthew records a paranoid King Herod who orders the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and younger in an attempt to wipe out “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2).  Voices “weeping and great mourning” filled the air that time, too.  In the words of Victor Hugo, “there’s a grief that can’t be spoken, a pain goes on and on” because the emptiness that follows death refuses comfort.

So even though words fail to bring explanation and sense to this tragedy, I do know One who can offer hope. In a world crowded with infomercials and annoying ring-tones, where everything but silent nights and herald angels seems possible, the message of Christmas still needs to echo through.

Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born TO YOU; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  (Luke 2)

 

Oh Jesus, enter our world, our pain, our questions, and bring your saving grace.  We are a mess without you, hopelessly lost.  Wrap us in the cloth of your birth — and your death — so we can know you, and be known by you.  

Thank you for coming to our world, and for staying.  You are all we want for Christmas.

 

To see you more clearly

“Who am I … There is no one like You…”

(2 Samuel 7:18 and 22)

 

I’ve been drawn to David’s story lately.  Not sure why.  I think I’m intrigued by David’s humanness, the bare “warts and all” honesty that composes the lines in God’s truth that are his.

So when David is confronted with the goodness of God, he is dumb-struck.  David’s prayer in response to God’s promise to make his family, his throne, and his name great is humility personified.

David simply receives.

He only has words of praise for God.  God is great.  God and his love and his choice are amazing.  What an honor to serve this great God; what a privilege.

At the same time, he knows that everything good that he or his family or Israel has is because of the blessing and favor of God.  David’s only request is that God would complete what he has already promised.

Maybe that should be the essence of all our prayers.

God you are amazing.  There is none like you.

Who am I that you should choose me,

know me,

bless me.

I am destitute without your favor.

I want to simply receive what you want to give me.

Since you have chosen me, I only ask that you would make good on your promise to love me and never leave me.

But, do I really believe that I am nothing, not-a-thing, without God’s favor?  I definitely know God’s blessing, but frankly I struggle to admit total dependence.  The truth of my need lies just on the other side of a cloudy window.  I see myself as capable and adequate to do what needs to be done much of the time.  And when the feelings of inadequacy creep in, I feel squirmy and I want to squash them, like a little bug that crawls up my leg and gives me the shivers.

Rarely does the cry, “I’m coming up short here!” drive me to my knees in prayer.  To my bed in self-pity, yes; to my knees in absolute surrender… sadly, no.

What would it be like to live with a daily awareness of my destitution without God’s favor?  Maybe the first step would be to gain a greater awareness of who He is… then my focus would be on him, not on me.

Okay, God.  You are good; you are great. In all of space and time, no one supersedes you.  You stand apart.

I am just a speck in history… a blot on the map… one of billions…  I see clearly now that I am nothing accept for the fact that you know you.  You see me.  You have called me by name and have claimed me as your daughter.  Amazing.

I have nothing to say except, “Thank you.  I need you. Don’t leave me.  I need your blessing to live this life you’ve called me to.”

 

Keep my eyes clear, so that I only see and never forget how much you’ve given, how much you’ve promised.

 

How great you are.

 

How great…

you are.

 

 

The Gaze of Trust

We met with a new doctor for Benjamin in Orlando last week.  Like others in her profession, she sees the disease, huge, foreboding. We see it as reality, but not defining.  Ulcerative colitis isn’t a period at the end of a life sentence for Benjamin.  It’s providing context for his story… and mine.

I’m drawn to the words of my story, to get them out.  So, here are bits of my journal, my honest heart before the Lord of mercy.  I pray you find a piece of your story as I share reflections on mine.

____________________

November 6, 2011

God, I need more of you.  

I need to see you, to adore you here, in the unknowing.  I don’t really know anything accept that I am afraid.

Afraid B’s not going to get well.  Afraid of him bleeding.  Afraid of the long, slow road of healing.  Afraid of harsh medicines that don’t heal the problem, only arrest the symptoms.  My fears pile up waiting for you to address and consume them.

How can I be so fearful?

Is this what lack of control feels like? Sleepless nights with stomach in knots, mind racing, weight on my chest.  Anxiety, God, is what this is.

Where is your peace?

I need to know what to do today.  How to help him today.  I wish my hugs could make him better.  I wish homemade chicken soup was all he needed.  Every day he’s not better, honestly, I feel like I am failing him.

How could he be so ill on my watch?

When he was a baby and having trouble sleeping, I would let him cry it out, and I would cry outside the door, hating to hear him struggle, but knowing he needed to learn how to sleep on his own.  It wrenched my heart and I asked you then what you were trying to teach me, through his struggle.  I didn’t get it then — or now.
Trust me.
I want to trust you.  I thought I was.  I am… I only want to do what you say.  But, you’re silent.  Where is the way to walk?  I’ll walk there.  I just don’t know where…
___________________
November 11, 2011
In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him.  Yet at present, we do not see everything subject to him.  But we see Jesus…                                                       Hebrews 2:8-9
I want to be subject to Jesus.  I want my life to reflect his glory.  I want to live in humble obedience to him.  That’s the only way life makes sense.
I’m definitely not experiencing “everything” subject to me!  My world has twisted completely out of control.  What I thought I knew about health and my ability to produce it seems shallow and vain in the shadow of B’s illness.  And, yet, this passage seems to be saying that seeing Jesus sets things right, in order.
Oh Jesus, you are my everything.  Really, there is nothing else to hold on to.  Health is fleeting.  Money runs out.  Possessions rust.  People disappoint… and die. Fill up my vision.  Be what I see.  Be my hands and feet, pointing others around me to you.

Is God Near?

We’re entering into an anniversary of sorts.  One year ago this month we began to live life with the realization that our oldest son has an inflammatory bowel disease… ending up with the diagnosis of indeterminate colitis.  It’s chronic.  It’s disruptive.  It’s incredibly inconvenient. But, it’s the place God has us.  We are seeing God “show up” in amazing ways as we walk this journey.


This blog entry is the first in a series where I will try to recount the valley we began to walk last year.  We aren’t to the other side yet.  But, I believe that it’s important that we share this journey in community.   The way a few grains of sand in my shoe drive me batty, sorting stories alone leads to isolation.

But those same grains, when joined with thousands of others, provide a tender and inviting place to walk.  So stories, when shared in community, provide a gentle place to process what God’s doing.  The difference in is in the gathering.

When we share the journey with others, openly, God reveals himself in the process. Not just when everything works out like we hoped.

I’d love to hear your own stories about how God has met you in the midst of unknowing.

_____________________

September 28, 2011

Gathering information is a strength of mine.  It’s my “go to” move when I’m trying to cope.  So, when we learned that Benjamin has “indeterminate colitis”, I consulted my nutrition books and websites looking for answers, looking to fix it.  Unfortunately, there isn’t an “easy fix.”  But what in life worth doing or learning is ever easy?  Even so, information by itself is cold and steril.  In my searching, I craved more than information.  I craved a presence I knew was beyond me.  I needed God near.

You may have heard me speak about the nearness of God.  It’s my favorite thing about Him — that he doesn’t run away in times of trouble, that he celebrates with us in victory, and draws close when we cry.  But I have to say, after many days of Benjamin bleeding, even in the hospital, I started to feel desparate.

One morning, about 10 days into our hospital stay, I needed to be loud with God.  I went on a walk and yelled at him.  OK, God, this has gone on long enough.  Why don’t you do something?  Where are you?  I need you to press in nearer.  You’re not near enough.  I felt desparate.  Many times I sobbed and nearly collapsed.

As I plodded along the nature paths in our neighborhood, the morning silent and misty, a strange thing happened.  Instead of my thoughts swirling in despair, I realized that they had begun to settle on what brings God glory.  I noticed glistening dewed blades of grass, the beautifully haphazard array of wildflowers and weeds, a seasoned stump ringed with age.  Unintentionally, I was thinking about how God was bigger than “indeterminate colitis.”  He gently led me to a place of surrender and I no longer cared about being “delivered.”

Instead of rescue me… rescue Benjamin, my heart whispered do what brings you glory.

I asked him to glorify himself in the midst of our struggle.  I told him that if we could just stand in the radiance of that glory, it would be enough.  I rested there, sweetly.  God drew near.

I can’t say that Benjamin has been healed.  He will most likely have this condition for the rest of his life.  I can’t say that anything I’ve planned has worked out my way.  But, I can say that God isn’t wasting a minute of this.  He is bringing himself glory as he shepherds us in the valley.  He is good and the writer of good stories… and I’m so glad I’m his.

Our Father

How ugly I am in an everything-depends-on-me state of mind.  I’ve asked the Lord to increase my dependence on him.  There’s nothing like feeling completely overwhelmed by circumstances (read “moving to Orlando, living in a 3 bedroom apartment and homeschooling 3 teenage boys”) to do that.

So, my prayers this morning morphed into something oh so familiar, but oh, so vital for life.  Here’s my Our Father heart cry…

Our Father sustainer, author, originator of all that is good in our lives.  Abba, I draw near.

who lives in the heavensas near as the air I breathe, my very breath, you are near.

Holy is your Name.precious, powerful, completely set apart, the Name above every name.

May your kingdom comeYour will, your reign.  May what you want to happen, happen.

may your will be done on earthhere, now, in this place, this time, this apartment.

as it is in heaven.the place of your presence, completely unshadowed by sin.  The place where I ‘ll see you face to face.

Give us this day —  You promise to provide for the moment… from endless storehouses.

our daily breadneeds, Father,  you know.  You meet me in the manna “what is it,”  even in the mystery of “is it good?”  You know our needs, and you are good, so we trust you.  Nourish, strengthen, give what souls and bodies require.

And forgive us our debtsmy controlling, critical nature.  My short tempered words. The swirling in my gut that reminds of all the weight and pressure I’m carrying, shouldering on my own.  Forgive me.

As we forgive our debtors I live with other fallen people who are trying in their own ways to figure this out.  Help me extend to them the same waves of grace and compassion that I’m in such desperate need of and so gratefully splash in.

And lead us not into temptationthe places I choose apart from you.  Help me to see them for what they are… dark, sad states of mind and behaviors that keep me from experiencing your grace.

But deliver us from the evil oneprotection from things unseen and forces that would seek to kill, steal and destroy.  I don’t take for granted, Father, the war going on.  I know you’ve got my back… and my future secure in your Father grip.

For yours is the kingdom,

yours is the power,

yours is the glorywhat more is there to say?  It’s all about you.  Now my eyes see and my heart knows it’s true.

forever and ever,

Amen.  Amen.