While I love Christmas the actual day tends to feel disappointing. While I love twinkling lights my soul still longs for a better experience of the light within me. I crave the quiet this time of year and this seems like the hardest time of year to find it. The expectation in the culture we live in and my own self-appointed ones ride along with me debating their worth alongside my soul’s true longings.
All the while, whether we notice or not, our soul is yearning for something else.
Recently, I began learning about Christmastide and it is opening Christmas up for me in a new way. My new awareness of what our church history and tradition is helps me recalibrate my perspective. Christmastide begins when Jesus is born! Instead of ending tomorrow, tomorrow it begins. God becoming flesh coming alongside His created humanity that He longs to love not only is the fulfillment of a great promise but it is a miracle. Christmas doesn’t actually end after you open gifts. This is refreshing!
As Christmas is happening, we begin our journey toward Epiphany when the wise men arrived in Christ’s presence recognizing Him as the son of God! It is very exciting and helps frame the bigger picture to what’s happening spiritually.
In these final hours of Advent, may we be led out of a desert of disappointments and false expectations into reflection and soul celebration. Christ has come for us and He is still coming. May we recognize who lives in us and wants to bring us life.
Today into tomorrow, find some space to be aware of what your soul is truly longing for. Reflect on the gift that it is to recognize Christ being born to come into your personal world - to love you and save you. Recognize and celebrate who He is to you in your life. Journal words from your soul.
“Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord.
- Zechariah 2:10
I don’t think I’m the only one who didn’t realize the emotional toll this year would take. Living in the midst of something beyond our control to fix on our own requires openness and resilience. Living with something bigger than ourselves is eye-opening. Experiencing grief in losing what’s normal and being grateful for the new revelations within it holds a tension all its own. Opposite emotions all at once can feel disorienting.
After 9 months, Covid continues to hang over our heads requiring what can feel like daily adjusting as we try to catch our breaths behind the masks. Deeply rooted racial wounds in our country continue to cry out for the need for awareness, repentance, and healing, not to mention (because I hardly want to) a political season weighty with divisiveness. My soul is tired.
I don't think I’m alone.
Just a little over 24 hours ago I was sitting in the sacred space my spiritual director creates for me. I don’t think I got more than five words out of my mouth before I started crying. “I am emotionally tired”, I said, feeling the depth of my emotional reserves on low. My #7 enneagram energy level isn’t where it usually is and I find that a little disorienting.
She had a few things to say in reassurance and then she simply asked the question, "If Jesus asked you what you want most right now what would you say?" In seconds, I knew. "I just want a silent retreat to feel refreshed and replenished."
I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Over the last 24 hours since meeting with her I’ve prayed and been so grateful for this awareness. I’ve asked Jesus, besides a retreat, what simple every day things would be life giving for me right now? It's amazing what we find in our hearts when we ask and listen. Simple things like, holding a warm mug of tea between my hands just staring out the window. Lighting a candle and putting on beautiful music. Playing a board game with my family. Sleeping in on a Saturday... Each of these things are surprisingly simple. Things I might even take for granted or not have much time for under “normal” circumstances.
So often I'm reminded, the solutions for our soul are often humbly simple but we have to listen for what they're crying for. We find hope when we hear and gain a greater perspective to live with awareness that we're experiencing something more real and true and raw than we saw before. We're experiencing our own limitations. We're experiencing our need for a Savior and to work hand in hand with one another. I'm grateful for what Jesus can do in us in the midst of where we find ourselves in the story of history right now.
I know I’m not alone.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed." - Deuteronomy 31:6-8
Making daily time for silent moments nourishes my soul right now. Along with meeting with my Spiritual Director (to share and receive support for how God is working in me), silence is one of my most important practices right now. It feels as though the Holy Spirit is doing something in me and I need to be ready to hear.
Maybe, it's the education on racial wounds and the cry for justice?
Maybe, it's the continued corona-virus changes?
Maybe, it's the regular activity of my 4 children with me almost all the time?
Maybe, it's the reforming of the local church I find myself noticing as a spiritual director and pastor's wife?
I'm finding the reason why I'm being invited into more quiet time less important and simply receiving this invitation as a gift. To be available, waiting, and listening so I can respond to God. That's what matters most. That's what will change me and give me clarity in this season.
As I sat for quiet this morning, I used a few verses in Mark's experience of Jesus to help me become still so I might hear. Many of us don't have the energy left anymore to read our Bible for a religious, superior motivation. We want to read to know and be known by our Creator more personally!
You might know the parables Jesus taught often confounded people who weren't there for a relationship. They were focused on defending and justifying what they already thought they knew. But, His disciples were listening too. As I quietly, slowly read verse 34 the last few words stood out to me.
"But when He was alone with his disciples, He explained everything."
He was so kind to them. Amidst the questions, and at times confusion, Jesus wanted to guide them along their journey, pointing them back to the promises of God's heart! He didn't want them to stay confused. Jesus knew it would take time for His disciples to "get it". He knew learning would come in layers. He was aware each one walking with Him had wounds, differing personalities, and even some false desires in the way. He knew they didn't even really know who they were yet.
It's in this listening time where we grow in discerning His voice. Little by little, we get to know the priceless things He knows we need to understand for our journey. It's in this surrendered time we practice letting go of whatever is blocking our hearing.
Then Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear." - Mark 4:9
For those who want to hear and be known by Him, He already waits for you. He makes Himself available to you. Our part is to arrange our lives in a way so we might hear and be graced in relationship with continued understanding.
What speaks to you about Jesus in Mark 4:34?
What might help you quietly listen for what He wants to explain to you?
Difficult times have a way of helping us see what really matters. And if we open ourselves to embrace 'what is' God truly can do a mighty work in our hearts. This unusual season of quarantine is no different. It's having an effect on all our lives. Maybe these few things can help give you some words to ask God about as you listen for His heart and find your footing in this season.
I believe that God is with us and working in us. When I pray, I'm opening myself to Him anew and being attentive to His work within me. Sometimes, I am simply still just being with Him, trusting He enjoys being with me. When I pray for the people I love, it reminds me that in the spirit we are all waiting and watching to find out how God will act and interact with us. Journaling about what is happening in me and what I'm noticing in the world around me, and bringing this into my relationship with Him can be very helpful in prayer. Learning about and practicing old tried and true spiritual disciplines like, Lectio Divina can also enhance your awareness of God with you in prayer.
2. Stay Connected
I have a new budding gratefulness for technology. As a person who has historically resisted the new tech trends I find myself so happy we have them! Not for self focused desires but for connection with other human beings. During the last few weeks of quarantine I have signed up for Zoom for myself to help further my spiritual direction training and connect with my friends and family. I've downloaded Messenger Kids for my children to connect with their friends. The ability to connect through Zoom, Skype, Facetime, texting or phone calls, are all great ways to stay in relationship with others. We are social beings. We absolutely need to know we're connected to someone outside ourselves.
3. Reach Out
See how your neighbors are doing. We can still practice social distancing through talking with each other from the safety of our own yards or starting a group chat with the people on our block. We can drop off flowers, a bottle of wine, fresh baked cookies, or cards on each others front steps. See how you feel prompted and led and go do it! Thankfully, social distancing does not mean the end of serving.
4. Cultivate Gratitude
There is always something to be grateful for. Always. As I write this, I am healthy and my family is healthy. I am grateful for more time together, the shared meals, the books I'm reading, for the birds chirping outside my kitchen window, for the silly playfulness our dog Jack gives to our home. Gratitude gives us perspective and a sense of peace as we look and see and thank God for His tangible gifts and provision.
5. Slow Down
Last but not least, slowing down seems to be key. Even as someone who is energized by others, I have often desired more time for contemplation. More time to look up at the sky, take a walk, write and read. Sometimes, it takes a forced slow down to sit still long enough to see what actually feels invited by God in the present season. Perhaps not being able to do some of the things I'm used to filling my time with is a gift right now.
While we wouldn't choose for this hard thing to happen or, the many inconveniences it causes, as we process it, we will be ready to embrace how God is going to reveal more of His heart to us through it. In this uncertain time, the invitation seems to be to open our lives to God's love and discern how He wants to reorient our plans so we align with Him.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now."
- Rainer Maria Rilke
I have many memories of myself jumping to answers or "quick-fix" solutions to a challenge to escape the uncomfortable feelings I was experiencing because of them. It used to be my 'normal' to attempt to control because I didn't know any other way. I'm aware of how living with a question that feels so pressing and uncomfortable to one's heart and mind doesn't feel good. I remember what I would experience.
I would have a question or feel like there was a problem. I would take control, figure it out, and go about trying to fix it, but nothing seemed to truly progress. I was a Christian, a Jesus follower, but I didn't know how to apply the things that were unresolved in my heart and let them be a part of my relationship with him. I didn't know yet how the uncomfortable parts were inviting me into a deeper relationship.
I believe our ability to hold our questions is crucial because if we can't we ignore one of the biggest parts of what makes us human. Our value and his purposes for us are difficult for us to see if we can't look and ask and wait in our real longings inside this sacred relationship. When we can't wait with our questions, we tend to rush ahead, trying to make something else work or happen instead.
In other words, we tend to try to control and manage life instead of discerning what Jesus is doing
in our life.
True connection with God as my love and my guide draws me toward maturity, understanding, and grace. My increasing capacity to be attentive to myself in God's presence brings light and truth into my heart. As I wait for the awareness I need to hear, friendship with Jesus becomes more personal. When I rush away from my questions, it actually disregards the experience of relationship.
When I try to answer too quickly, take control, and figure out a solution on my own, I haven't given myself a chance to experience Jesus and hear His voice in the situation.
Becoming present to ourselves, to Jesus, and at times a trusted soul friend nourishes a deeper feeling than a quick-fix response ever can, but it requires going there with him. It takes practice.
Starter Prayer ...
Father, Son, and Spirit, help me lean on you instead of running into my own conclusions. Enable me by your spirit to listen in prayer and in life as you reveal what I need to know. Your revelations, your heart, your wisdom means more to me than feeling like I have control. Thank you, for nourishing me as I wait with you.
Can I hold my question with the Lord without trying to solve it?
Can I be patient with this thing that is unsolved in my heart?
Can I rest with my question in God's presence?
"I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation my fortress where I will never be shaken."
I dropped my kids at my grandma's house a little after lunch. This has been a rhythm of mine for the last year or so to have the better part of one day a week to myself. My grandma is great-grandma to my babies. She's amazing. On this day, one day a week, I almost always have an appointment or two lined up and some reading or cleaning in my house to catch up on. But, today I didn't have anything that needed to happen.
My perception on time and living in a hurried way has been shifting. I can feel it happening. Maybe, it's the season I'm in or the book I've been reading. I can't put my finger on how exactly my thinking is changing but one thing I know for sure. God loves me and He'll use everything in my day to keep teaching me to rest, trust, rely on Him and desire Him in well, everything...
Today, on my one day a week, I could've tried to 'get ahead' on something important. I'm good at that! I've done it lots of times before. But, nothing actually felt that important and God knows I long to follow His Spirit. I want to walk WITH Him not on my own ahead of Him! This is a prayer for me lately.
I packed my bag with a book, a snack, a towel, my Bible, and water bottle, and sun glasses (because it's Summer still) and headed outdoors. After, I ate my cucumber sandwich, hummus, and corn chips sitting in stillness. I spread out my towel, a pillow, and fell asleep on my dock that rests on top of our little body of water. I dozed off until my sister called. As I listened to her special voice I heard her heart filled with words of updates of new baby and packing and moving soon to a different part of the country. After a little while she had to go and help her older baby toddler so I decided to open up my book and read a little. Soon, I'm highlighting and breathing prayers of thankfulness... peace, grace. presence, rest, love.
I took a deep, slow breath in. Probably, the first one I've taken in days and smelled the change in the air and felt God's peace touch me. I rolled myself over and sat up to check and see what the clouds were doing. They were big and dark and full and beautiful, haunting in a good way! A hawk, I don't know what kind, was using the soon-to-be-summer-storm wind to glide and soar high over me. I don't believe God put this hawk just here right now just for me but He surely does use all His creatures and the powers of nature to say something.
I felt His presence hovering. As if He wanted to say, "Life is here Amy for the taking. I give it freely for you, for your good, for my glory..." I sat still looking up all around me, little me, learning about all the freedom I have with God. It began to rain. I placed my things back into my bag and protected it with the towel I had just moments before used to lay in the sun. I headed for shelter. It's amazing how quickly things change.
When I stop to rest I really see.
I've been outdoors a lot in nature lately with friends and family and it's all good and it's moments and memories and experiences together and I love it! But, it's different when I'm all by myself with God. I feel His Spirit that lives in me smiling saying, 'Well done, my girl'. I love this time with you! "I'm so happy you're getting my point. I've been following you around teaching you, that a big part of serving Me, loving Me, bringing Me glory can only be done in rest, in waiting, in being still and finding out that I am God."
God loves us. He's abundantly kind to let me know when I've chosen well. It feels a lot like peace for my soul. I became aware of a grace, undeserved, while I was busy not accomplishing anything. This is what I'm learning and it's good and it's life giving!
Today, on my one day a week God gave a gift to me.
He reminded me that I don't have to do as much as I think.
He made it clear that taking my time in His presence just being and letting Him love me however He would like to, is worth putting aside my desire to accomplish another thing on my to-do list.
Resting with Him is worth every second.
"Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." - Psalm 84:10a NIV
I stay home on Mondays.
I don't remember the day I made this decision but it was a while ago and it's become one of my sweetest rhythms. It's a rhythm that has proven so good, so right, so what I need - that it's stuck.
I can count on one finger the times I've left my house on a Monday in the last year. I stay away from appointments, shopping, and anything that resembles needing immediate attention. I remain with my kids just doing homey things because I need it. I need a reset.
On this Monday morning, I reflected on the week ahead and realized all I wanted was to go down on the back part of our 14 acres where the stream runs free and sit outside for as long as I could. Just me and God alone with the birds and the trees. My goal was to pick a place to plop down, enjoy quiet solitude, take in beautiful words, and just breathe in the sounds and sights of whatever nature brought up beside me.
I had an opportunity and took it. I looked, I listened, I felt, I rested. I read for thirty minutes. That's how it happened. Thirty glorious minutes doing what my body and soul needed.
A mother duck led her fifteen babies right in front of me gliding gracefully through the water leaving quiet ripples behind them. The ducklings followed her. They were learning her ways as she left her mark on the water. And when she dipped down, they instinctively followed her. Awestruck at the sight of them, I sat with my mouth open completely drawn in. It's beautiful how they learn what to do. After several seconds she came up as each small head bobbed up behind her, one right after the other. They repeated this exercise three times without a flicker of hesitation.
She was teaching them how to find food - what they need to thrive. The spiritual story swam in motion around me reminding me, helping me see. "Learn from Me," echoed like a whisper across the water. My heart connected and wanted to swim in after following Jesus just like these babies followed their mother. No hesitation. Just pure instinct knowing this is what they were made for. What I'm made for.
I stay home on Monday's and sometimes watch ducks and meet Jesus again.
Inspiration becomes distraction when it's not executed at the right time.
I jumped out of bed at 6am and was out the door running within 15 minutes. For 3 miles I ran while listening to one of my favorite podcasts. The latest episode was on the benefits of blogging. I was inspired by reason 1 and completely sold by reason 10!
I came straight home determined I knew exactly what I needed to do but something didn't feel quite right. Normally, a morning run focuses my heart, mind, and body for the day ahead. I tend to feel calmer, clearer and ready to go! But today was different. I didn't know what I should write about or see how I was even going to fit whatever these words were supposed to be into my day. I felt tense and cloudy.
Instead of being led by the Spirit I was being led by a good idea.
The truth is, with all the great thinkers throughout time and information constantly right at my fingertips, it can be easy to get distracted and start things I'm simply not meant to do right now.
If you're anything like me, your mind runs with 100 different possibilities! My enthusiasm can easily turn into stress when I don't have my attention on where God has me right now. Passionate achievers who want to see movement and make a difference have to learn to stop. Stop everything for a few minutes to intentionally pray about what's next. "God, Where do you want my attention to be today? How can I agree with what you want to accomplish in me?"
We need continual clarity about where God has us in our story so we can learn what we need from the page we're on. This alone can bring peace and contentment. This alone can be all the reason we need to not jump ahead before this chapter's finished.
One of the most important things to remember today is, everything is not the next thing.
After coming home, settling in, I realized I needed direction! I paused and prayed. I felt freed up to wait and words came. I DID have a blog post in me today.
Last year in October, I completed my first half-marathon. After finishing those beautiful 13.1 miles alongside of some of the best Rhode Island coastline, I knew I had run as far as I was able that day! Happily I stood sipping a Gatorade behind the finish line, now a spectator among hundreds of other onlookers. And as I peered around shoulders and heads, squeezing through to get a better look, the announcer spotted the first full-marathon racer heading right toward us! I couldn't see this person yet but that didn't stop any of us from cheering. Goosebumps came through my now dry salt-laced skin as I realized I was a part of something greater than myself. Watching that person cross over that finish line brought surprising tears to my eyes. This stranger, I had never seen before inspired something in me. I couldn't help but wonder if I was meant to run more than I had today.
After that race, I started thinking about what my big goal for the new year might be. As I got ready to hang up my 2015 calendar, I thought it over some more and wrote it down. I knew I wasn’t ready to run 26.2 miles yet - the butterflies in my stomach assured me of that - but I was ready to commit and begin.
The thing I love about setting a goal is how it gives me something specific to live toward.
A goal helps me keep my eyes open, aware, and moving toward Jesus with passion and growing endurance! It gives me a tangible focal point.
The marathon I chose was set for June 21, 2015 and the entire experience felt nothing short of miraculous to me. The race was set to start at 7:30am. on Sunday morning. As of 2am. I was sicker than I’ve been in years! Even as optimistic as I am, I began wondering if I’d be able to go. After months of hard work all my reserves had left me in minutes. Sometime after 2am. I was in the shower while Josh cleaned up my sick mess. Sometime after 3am. I was able to lay back down to rest. Sometime after that, I fell asleep to the beat of my heart praying to make this run!
At 5:10am. our alarm sang out and I woke to the sound of another potential obstacle. Feeling physically strengthless, I slowly sat up in bed, cautious of how my body might still react and heard the sounds of heavy raindrops. I sat at the edge of the bed wondering about what the blister on my right big toe would think of me running in these conditions. Unsure of what would happen, I slowly forced myself to eat a pb & j and the banana Josh had brought me and felt a little strength returning. I put on my race clothes. I walked through the rain to the car and closed the door with Josh inside beside me, still unsure of myself but sure of God. I had no guarantees except that He would guide me.
I showed up.
We picked up our friend Jason, and once we were all there I knew I was still in it! I started stretching on an indoor track and met Tracy. She wasn't sure how the weather would affect her but wanted to run anyway just to "feel God's pleasure". Me too, Tracy.
Josh and I started side by side. He was in it for the half-marathon and so was Jason, who was already ahead of us. About two and a half miles in Josh told me to go ahead because his knee was acting up. I stayed near him a little while longer and then knew I had to pull away and run my own race. Trusting God would provide for him, I took off.
It’s a funny thing to be reminded that when it comes down to it our race is our own. It’s personal and it's different from anyone else's.
At every station, I accepted a Dixie cup of Gatorade and thanked the people waiting for me in the pouring rain! When the miles really started adding up and racers were thinning out I ran along side a few other women, exchanging names and stories between breaths. We talked of where we were from and why we were here. Sometimes I ran alone - just Jesus and me. I knew I was more than lucky to be in attendance.
As I approached MILE 20, I broke into a huge relieved smile! Waiting in the rain with others at the water station was my personal volunteer. Our friend Brian had promised to join me to help me finish. Borrowing a line from another experienced 60-something year old runner I had tracked with through half the race, I shouted to Brian, “We’re doing this!” He jumped in with fresh, excited feet asking me right away how I was doing. It was a perfectly logical but loaded question; like asking a woman in the transitional stage of labor how she’s feeling. I hung in there with him by my side. With every next step Brian reminded me to just put one foot in front of the other, “pitter-patter, pitter-patter”... So, I just kept breathing and doing that.
During MILE 22, I got my first stomach cramp of the race. I told Brian and we slowed down a little until it dissipated. At MILE 23, we were entering the last leg of the journey, passing a few funny signs like; “Chafe now, brag forever," Ridiculously hilarious! We entered into the quiet part of the route, through the woods away from cars with only a few other almost-finishers in sight at this point. Branches, weighed down by the rain, dangled over our heads. Brian jumped up slapping a few leafy "high fives" and we ran on.
Brian told me that sometimes when he runs in the rain he feels like he’s being baptized again. It described exactly how I felt... Like wanting to follow, choosing to plunge into the water in front of witnesses to share God's story of you more than anything!
Besides being really cold, I was now appreciating the fresh perspective of the rain. There were a few more silly signs sprayed on with paint on the paved path. I remember laughing quietly through my pain. At MILE 24, Brian told me the last mile would be more a victory lap because at that point I would have already succeeded. I hoped it would be true because I was hurting! At MILE 25, I felt it happen. It was like a gear inside me shifted. I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me previously that I would have something left to give to that FINAL MILE but I did; it was true! I started sprinting and passed 3 people, Brian and I calling out encouraging things as we passed by each of them. It was cammaradorie at its best knowing we had all experienced the same terrain. I said things out loud to myself too like, "Come on, Amy!" and, "If I can give birth to four babies I can do this!" Brian affirmed everything I said.
My kind volunteer bowed out and left my side right before I ran under the huge UMO Black Bear blowup back onto the track field where we'd all started. I could hardly believe I was so close! The first people I saw were my children, then my husband, our friend Dean (who had chased me throughout the whole race in his car to check on how I was!), my nephews and sister in-law, my mom, my dad, my Grandma, and my friend Shannon. They all looked exactly the same. They all looked astonishingly beautiful to me!!! They were running all around cheering me over the finish line! I was finally here!
I showed up and I made it! It's truly a miracle I was able to ATTEND AND FINISH, under 5 hours in the cold rain, with a blister after being so sick! By the way, I found out later Tracy was the first woman to cross the finish line. Yay, Tracy! Yay, God!
I see my marathon the same way I see life.
What I’m learning is there’s always going to be variables at play. Things working for me and against me. It doesn't change the truth that who I sense I'm meant to become takes work!
It takes me establishing a routine...
It takes paying attention to how I'm doing along the way...
It takes commitment and endurance without knowing the exact outcome...
It takes God... It takes his people!
We're here to SHOW UP and do our very best with what we're given. It’s not as much about the "big" goals but about the "Full Life" Jesus offers. That my friend, is something that is guaranteed always and starts right NOW wherever you are.
I ran for God and me, and any of you out here; the onlookers, the witnesses to my story, and hoped you'd be encouraged in some way. Like the marathoner who unknowingly inspired me last October, if I've inspired you, I ran for you too.
My prayer was that my training and the marathon experience would become a part of who I am. And the more I’ve let it simply sink in over the past week and a half, I feel it has become a personal marathon miracle. That years from now I'll look back on this little piece of my story and be able to give God full glory! Arriving at this appointed destination and celebrating it through sweet reflection has become "the icing on the cake" for me. The journey, the months of training was just as important if not actually more than what happened on race day.
Whatever "race" you need to enter in your life right now, may you too run toward Jesus and become stronger for it! May you point your body and soul in one direction and don't stop until you get to the finish line.