I’m picky when it comes to fiction. I love to read, but finding fiction novels I enjoy feels few and far between. I’m more comfortable picking up something “real” on a subject I want to learn about. Something on spiritual formation, psychology, or even a good memoir opens a window to see into someone's true story. I loved novels when I was younger, and somewhere along the way, I wanted information that would help me help others. And I suspect, at times, it made me feel like I was doing something meaningful and a little more valuable. It’s been a journey.
Over the last few years, I’ve practiced reading more reflectively. No matter what I feel led to read now, I like remembering that the Holy Spirit is actively working to renew and restore me, even as I read. How does what I’m reading make me feel? What’s true about life with God in this? Whatever it is, it’s become more about how I’m reading, leaving room for God to take the lead.
It's been nearly a year since one of my dearest friends recommended a novel to me. Last week, I felt a nudge to find it in my local library. “Hannah Coulter,” written by the contemplative poet farmer activist Wendell Berry, gives truths in story form that are ministering to me on my journey with God.
The truth is, we’re all on a very particular journey that God oversees as He guides our relationship with Him and helps us with one another. So, even when an author writes a made-up story, it speaks of our human experience.
We all know healing comes slowly to us, and in my experience, a layer at a time. In the story, Hannah is no different. Her stepmother is now old and doesn’t remember much of anything, certainly not how her presence and way of being disturbed Hannah’s childhood. Truths like this can shock us out of our skin with the intensity of the emotion connected to a particular part of our history. How can they not realize? How do I forgive? After her brief encounter with this now old woman’s frail reality, Hannah experienced what she needed to. Wendell writes that Hannah awoke in the night and realized while she was at rest, sleeping, she was forgiving her stepmother. The realization felt so real, so powerful, that it woke her up!
“My old hatred and contempt and fear, that I had kept so carefully so long, were gone, and I was free.”
We tend to feel nervous that God will show us too much, more than we can handle, but that’s just it. We’re not meant to “handle it.” We’re meant to just keep opening up to our story and let the Lord do what needs to be done in us. Sometimes, we fear we’ll become too overwhelmed by acknowledging our pain, but the Lord’s healing actually helps relieve some of our depression. With great surprise and gentleness, similar to how Wendell surprised me with Hannah’s healing, the Lord reveals to us things we’re free to let go of now, forgive, and receive redemption.
David knew the Lord would sometimes instruct Him, even at night (Psalm 16). And, when the Lord did, David would awaken the next morning a little different. A layer at a time. Letting God do it. David experienced so many moments in his life, some we have no idea about, where God graced him with something he spiritually needed for healing and flourishment. We have the same opportunity today.
When the Lord encounters us, it's often in the quiet but feels more real than anything else. He has no desire to leave us in the condition we’re in. He knows how much healing He wants to offer us in this abundant life we’re traveling in. Like this beautiful woman Hannah, whom Wendell penned with captivating precision to what life as humans is like, the Lord is writing a story over us and in us through it all.
So, friend, I say, let’s let Him...
How are you listening and hearing the Lord in your life right now? How do you want to respond?
Pick up your Bible and slowly read John 15:1-9. Notice what word, image, or emotion is being highlighted for you as you do?
Where will the Spirit of God work with you breathing life through it right now?
Being in a close relationship with Jesus is the answer. The root of our desires and deepest human needs is to grow in connection with Him. Throughout Scripture, you see a Creator God who doesn’t make people change but simply keeps revealing His heart toward us and His way forward for human flourishment. It's all about this one life-giving relationship and all that will grow out from it for His Kingdom.
We can practice and learn how to live, trusting the goodness and provision of His Spirit, or attempt to manage life in our way. We can practice abiding in Him or distract ourselves with other things. We all do a little of both, but we’re created to become more connected to Him in everything. He’s where life is.
Abiding in Jesus looks like practicing staying connected to His heart, wherever we are, in whatever we do. To do that, we also have to stay connected to ours. Most of us don’t intentionally disconnect from Him, so we need questions and signals for when we do. How am I? What’s happening in me right now? How can I lean into Him in this moment instead of pulling away?
Simply put, part of abiding in Him is growing in awareness of when we’re not.
It’s seeing sides of ourselves that we couldn’t see before and rejoicing with the hope that He’s right here helping us. Our thoughts about people and things, our heart and its emotions, and our attitudes and perspectives all get invited to be cared for and guided on the vine by the Spirit. One of the most basic ways to see that something about us is disconnected from Him is experiencing a lack of peace and a presence of frustration. In a moment like this, we already have the invitation to lean into who He is and our need for life from Him. It’s a choice. We avoid Him or stay and embrace His power and healing. It’s easy to allow pride or pain take over and form our emotions and thoughts more than Jesus. God knows this will happen to us at times, quicker than we can even realize it. We need to be graced and enabled by His Spirit to accurately, honestly assess the condition of our soul through eyes of love without judgment and without taking over or giving up but letting Him slowly, with great care, do what needs to be done.
The other part of growth in awareness is getting to know the depths of His heart!
We start knowing more about this new life in Christ as we embrace a personal connection with Him. We experience hope! We start sensing attributes like gentleness, joy, faithfulness, and peace in ways we didn’t know were possible! We become different. We become like Him. We continue becoming fully who He created us to be. We get to experience fellowship with Him and be led by Him in relationships and decisions. We connect with others in healthier, supportive, loving ways too. I’m slowly seeing that learning comes for and from each other, through both failure and success together, and new life comes from being connected to Jesus. If each of us connect to Jesus, we’ll have something great to give when we gather together.
Practice staying connected to His heart. Notice when you're not and experience Him more. Choose to embrace an abiding life and let Him guide. Place and position yourself openly, desiring to receive the fruit of transformation, ready to gratefully receive His tending. Only then will we truly experience the fullness of life He created us to live. Here are a few questions and suggestions if you need help taking a step.
What kind of place, people, and pace help give you a way to stay close as He grows you more on His vine?
How might you open up and connect with His presence and love more or in a totally new way?
Daily Stillness... Sit down with the Lord. Read Scripture, pray, and offer yourself to Him in personal reflection.
Nature… Turn off what distracts you and take a slow, contemplative walk. Enjoy His nearness through the beauty of His creation.
Mid-Day Examen… How are you, mind, body, and soul? Stop to do a self-check, promoting awareness of how you’re doing and functioning. Be completely honest with yourself and allow His character to change you however you need to.
Spiritual Direction… Schedule a regular check-in for deeper reflection, sharing, and support on your journey.
We’re people who are continually being formed, and we’re formed by what we’re most connected to. May we be a people who desire to be deeply connected to Jesus.
Three summers ago, someone I know said I could have some of their flowers. So, with gratitude, I dug several of them up in their yard and transplanted them here to mine. After three years of waiting, they began showing signs of life a few days ago and then suddenly bloomed here for the first time!
A few years isn't very long to wait, but it was long enough for me to start wondering why they weren't blooming.
What happened? Should I have prepared the soil better? Was it the environment that I brought them into? Can they just not thrive and flourish here? And, the biggest question, would I not get to experience the fullness that its life was meant to display? I wondered.
I love how God lets us see connections through His creation in our personal life with Him.
Simply waiting in the questions became important to me. I didn't make any rash judgments or movements to remove them. Instead, through the last several seasons, I kept trusting they would do what they were created to do when they were ready. I had to trust that there was life left, still a purpose for these beautiful gifts, without a glimpse of a blossom, until now. I chose to believe the assurance of the Holy Spirit, who I sensed was leading me to trust they would be able to do what they were created to one day fully.
Discernment is one of the most challenging tasks we have as human beings. It's easier to sense when something is wrong. It's much harder to hold some waiting space for what to do (if anything). Plant life exists through God's creatively designed rhythms, intricate connection, and power. We are more complex. We can sin and confuse ourselves. We're capable of doubting God's promises. We all have things about us that can get in the way of our growth.
God knows us intimately and knows we have our whole story inside us. All the way from Adam and Eve up to the brokenness found throughout our own stories, He knows we hold some significant tensions from our life experiences. He knows what can hold us back and also understands what can propel us forward too soon. He is also very aware of the gifts and call He placed inside us. He doesn't lose sight of any of this.
How do we know when to remain in the waiting and when to take action? How do we listen to hear the quietness of our Shepherd's voice? How do we discover our questions and allow the intensity of them to settle in for the journey of learning discernment, which gives Him space to love us in more
As I slowly dug deeper into this, I learned scientists have a name for the part of the plant that protects the bud before it opens up. They call them "Sepals." It's good to know who our people, our "sepals" are.
As I continue to learn about life, I'm developing a larger capacity to understand and appreciate the different phases of growth. I admit I still enjoy the phase of life when the flower blooms producing the fruit it was made for the best. The beautiful flowering blossom itself is the reproductive part. Imagine how God's Kingdom can grow if we submit ourselves to the process together. The possibilities for us are magnificent, if we allow Him time and space to ready us and open us up fully to His plans! Look for signs of life emerging. Lean in and watch how Jesus helps our lives blossom to fulfill the unique beauty of Christ's purposes for us. He will continue to show us the way...
Who supports you spiritually while you go through your process?
Who helps you hear the Shepherd's Voice when yours becomes louder?
What could be possible to experience with Jesus together if we relinquish our control and embrace
Praying with you, soul friend...
“Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
- Matthew 7:14
As human beings in a world that is still hurting itself, trying to figure out it’s problems in its own ways, Jesus is the only One who knows the true way forward.
Jesus gave us a way to enter in.
He gives us a way to become the human being He designed and created us to be. But, healing and transformation happen gradually and slowly because the mess that is in us is layered. Over time, through the gift of time, we start recognizing how far and wide and deep this relationship with our Creator really is capable of going.
God doesn’t force love. It's us who decide how close we actually want to be with Him.
Throughout stages of life, we’re gifted with moments and reflective seasons where we begin growing in recognition and awareness. It is us who decide just how much of our pride we're willing to let go of to experience His goodness and life healing love.
I've been in a personal relationship with Jesus for a while now. I've done a lot of reflecting on some significant parts of my history. My joys, pain, gifts, and my own ego that can get in the way. I’ve seen and experienced how my Christianity can easily stay self-focused. I can be tempted to function out of my own brokenness, instead of belief in God's presence right here with me. As I’ve continued to submit to knowing Jesus, what He’s like and how He shows me the way into life, a hunger for His righteousness instead of my own has increased in my soul.
But, this has been a gradual journey. It's as if we get to experience a few spiritual wake up moments and recognize our own journey. We start seeing reality more clearly. It's up to us to decide how much intimacy we actually want with Jesus and just how close we’re willing to let Him be with us and help us. Many may say “yes” at some point but, few will continue on and know for themselves the fullness of what He has actually given us access to through a personal, life-long, deepening relationship with Him.
Sister, Joan Chittister reflects on how we can all get stuck in our human development. She writes, “The only problem is that if and when we don’t grow out of it, as we should, it renders us bereft of an adult spiritual life. We become, instead, spiritual infants, adolescents suspended halfway between
maturity and self-indulgence."
As we grow up and start becoming adults in our personal Christian practice we become aware of the reality that we actually cannot reach full maturity and know the fullness of life in Christ through ourselves and
our way. The Holy Spirit is so ready, available, and not only willing, but in fact delighted to help us change and grow into who we are really meant to be!
How close do you want to be to Jesus?
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
If you’re here, I know it’s because you long for more. You desire change and growth. You desire to be fully formed in this life you’ve been given with Christ.
We're fragile, image-conscious, seeking to find value in something. This gets in our way at times, but you know what? I don’t want you to disregard these things too quickly. These are the very real things in our broken selves that give Jesus a way to minister personally to us. It gives us a way to know Him as He does. We all still need Him.
This is the formational journey.
When we first glimpse something in us that makes us feel uncomfortable (sin in our hearts, guilt that plagues us, fear of real intimacy), we tend to look away and try to make it about something else. But, as we're willing to look these are the things that inform us while He forms us into deepening Christlikeness and our true selves. We can look at how saints who have gone before us met Him where they were at. There are so many stories in the Bible of men and women who grew in self and God awareness and their eyes became open along the wya. Jesus met them where they were and now we get to live this ourselves.
We tend to avoid looking at how we feel, how we think, and why we act the way we do. We tend to fear awareness, but awareness is the gift. Awareness is a grace from His heart to ours.
I keep practicing this in my life—this awareness of my own tendencies. There’s no other way I can be formed and grow spiritually with Christ and mature as a disciple if I don’t keep noticing myself.
I’ve been doing some more writing lately. So much of it isn’t on this page yet. It’s lying quietly on the living room floor of my soul while I sit beside it. For much of my life, I’ve desired to find a way around the hard parts and run ahead to what I think will give me something better than pain and questions. I long to see the story come together because I trust Jesus and know it will be a beautiful ending. I’m aware of pieces of my life on these pages. Some feel fragmented and a little shaken up and disheveled. Other pieces on these pages feel deep and clear and full of healed understanding. I keep noticing. I keep looking.
While desiring to see things come together isn’t wrong, at times, it’s just not conducive to the inner work
Christ is doing inside.
So as I continue sitting, knowing His presence with me, I’m continuing to see everything connecting and threading into my story. I’m seeing who I am. Though there have been painful years of spiritual longing and confusion, there’s someone very particular I was created to keep becoming.
Friend, He’s not finished with our story. Because watching and waiting and tending the life of your soul is so much better than running away to try and move on from it all or staying too long to try to prove something. God knows I’ve seen myself capable of both. But, through the love of our Father, the life of Jesus, the indwelling presence of the Spirit, we can say yes to partnering with Him in Kingdom glory right now.
The truth is the Spirit comes and stays with us and helps us receive the healing awareness and transformation we’re all in need of. When we look away or refuse to sit down, we only delay our journey to wholeness and closeness with Him and others. Yet, the Spirit still stays right here waiting for us. God has more He's working on for me, and He does
Take a few moments right now. Come and sit on the living room floor for a little while.
The ice holds the dam in place, giving us time to watch what God is doing while we rest and wait.
Winter is a gift. I didn’t always think that, but it’s true. I used to feel like it was the hardest season but as I've allowed God to lead me into it, I've gotten to intimately know what it’s like to let Him love me in deepening ways. I get to practice opening my arms to Him, my heart and mind to Him, so I can be fully formed in His likeness, with His character and heart.
There is so much waiting in Winter. Without Winter, I might not know how to experience the prolonged subtle slowing of the pace of nature. Water slowly freezing experiencing its own form of waiting. Trees sleep from their work of producing and the soil beneath us freezes too, I bear witness to a holy invitation. In Winter, I feel a drawing to enter my life more slowly, so I can continue to notice the things He’s doing in me.
God calls us into seasons of deepening knowing if we dare go into that honest place with Him. Dare I do because
I don’t see another way to live anymore.
Right before Winter began, I felt a call to resign from one of my jobs. I experienced an invitation so clear to my soul that it felt almost audible. A soft whisper distilled my struggle to show myself worthy was now a place at rest within me. It was miraculous. For the first time in my life, what felt like the deepest part of who I am took a deep breath, dared to stop, and stood still. It required some spiritual courage to let go of something I’ve tried to manage for so long and it brought a great feeling of freedom.
It feels vulnerable and also exciting to follow Him into a new way of being. It’s encouraging to realize that God’s invitations are actually better than the way I do things. I know He is good so I can’t help but experience a sense of anticipation over what He’s doing within me and the ripple effects it will have after Winter ceases and the dammed waters flow again.
God is continuously calling us to participate in who He is and what He is doing. I sometimes think as Christians, we prefer to believe that God is God, and we’re not, so there’s not much for us to do or decide. We don't recognize just how personal our God is. We stay busy distracting ourselves with control instead of looking at what's really going on in ourselves. But that’s not the way to transformation. If we genuinely want to grow in our relationships with God, that desire requires us to commit to doing our part.
Thankfully, God doesn’t need us to do much but He does need us to remain open. He already has a plan for something good and life-changing in the waiting. We get to welcome Him into every space and season of our lives and relationships trusting in His holy invitations. He helps us realize that our truest desire is to have nothing in between Him and us, to start experiencing what it will be like to be fully with Him and completely restored one day.
What does God want to do within you in this season of your soul? Are you open?
What do you notice happening inside of you? How do you feel?
What is God’s desire for you?
Spend a few minutes listening to your answers. Journal a little. Read a Scripture slowly and wait with Him.
Jeremiah 6:16, Psalm 23:2-3, Psalm 62:1-2
I used to resent and like Fall at the same time. Fall's colorful brilliance leads to a long cold Winter and I don't like that very much. But the more I allow myself to sit with God and experience Him, the more I find myself relieved from my own expectations and happy to embrace His invitations.
I felt something different this year. What God was doing in nature seemed to be in sync with what He's doing in me.
My husband and I drove this morning with warm drinks between our hands. We were riding around looking at houses, but what I noticed were trees. I felt like a child, amazed at what I could see now that the leaves were not blocking anything! The bare, exposed forest allowed everything to be seen. Things that were hidden behind the leaves protective coverings were now open. It is still what it was but now it's standing differently. Like a field of grass, the forest is now beautifully exposed. The trees didn't grasp to keep the leaves on. Instead, it simply opened its arms surrendering to the season its Creator says is "good."
So today, nearing the end of November, the trees stand tall and bare without seemingly anything to protect them but maybe trusting now more than ever. It's symbolic of an inner experience, and acceptance of God's good work. It's an experience of a fuller embracing of our true self who is seen, and wanted, and lovingly restored by Him. After a holy releasing occurs, we see things we couldn't see before. We see God and His activity at work, in
and over all life.
Embrace the season of soul work the Holy Spirit wants to do in you. Hold it with a willing spirit, strengthened and humbled in that posture. Wait for Him to show you things you couldn't see before. In the meantime, love Him by loving others. The bareness might feel frightening at first, but if you keep letting go, you'll see the healing
and deepening freedom He's after.
Take a deep breath and stand in what He's already doing.
I took my final seminary exam Monday night. After a lot of hard work and juggling family and work life, I’ve completed my time at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. All at once, I’m delighted, relieved, and thankful.
Today, I felt an invitation to slow down and reflect on the experience over the course of the last 14 months with my professors and the authors I read. These men and women are brilliant and humble teachers of God’s Word and have greatly encouraged me. But, I find myself moving into the personal layer of my growth with God throughout this special time.
One might think the biggest thing I learned was facts about the Bible and the methods of interpretation developed and used throughout church history. While understanding more about the dynamics and different parts of Scripture is necessary and a high value for all who want to know God, I find myself favoring how God has personally changed me throughout my seminary experience.
Like many of us, I grew up in church environments that valued appearing right over transformation. Isn’t that sad?
I continue to witness the temptation for all of us to fall into this broken mindset. We inadvertently forget Jesus came to save us from the exact ways we protect and prop ourselves up because of
sin's effect on us.
Jesus and I have walked together throughout this time.
He’s invited me to let the pressure go that I thought I had to have on myself, especially because I’m a woman in the church. (The sad reality is, women of God feel like they have to work harder to prove themselves worthy but that's actually part of the enemies lie - let’s talk about that more later.)
He’s enabled me to walk humbly, thanking Him for His power at work within me instead of relying on others to encourage me. He’s shown me more about what it's like to enjoy living from a posture of openness to let Him lead in the ways He knows the Holy Spirit can accomplish change in us.
And the most vulnerable, are you ready to hear this because apparently, I'm ready to tell you. He’s shown me I’m not a mistake. How He designed me has never seemed to fit in the church model and I've battled with that thought for years. He created me well and wants to use me in a unique way.
I’m meant to be here.
My time in seminary was life-changing, not because of the gift of good professors, the books, and God’s Word, but because of God Himself. Everything He gives us and the importance of these things are meant to lead us straight to Him.
So, if my time in seminary has done anything, it’s made me fall more in love with Him and shown me what life to the full is again.
God not only hears our voice, but he hears our heart. Something my pastor said last Sunday that was so good and true.
God is not an emotionally detached father. He cares about how we feel. He cares enough to guide us through our questions too.
He understands our whole story. He wants to love us and guide us into a deeper reality with Him. To know more deeply who He is and who we are as His. Not only does God hear us, but He wants to hear from us. His invitations happen on the inside and take time. He welcomes us to participate in our own healing, continual dialogue between His truth and our honesty.
We'll experience starts and stops as we see more fully what we need to open up about. Thank you, Holy Spirit.
I'm in an "in-between" waiting place right now on my journey.
It's holy. It's good. There's beauty here. This place is a part of contemplating what it's like to live into who I am in Christ at this point in my life. It also feels vulnerable because now I have more questions than I did before. All of us experience these moments on our journeys. We can choose to look away from our deep questions or lean into them with trust and experience healing and deeper relationship.
Jesus made a way for us to become whole and healed and learn how to live from the Father's original desire. He wants us to face forward and learn how to steward this life with Him. He created us to live in the present, looking out toward the future with hope together.
This season feels vulnerable, and yet there's a profound confirmation of healing taking place! The enemy will, at times, tempt us to look and get lost in old pain, and that is not where the Lord is saying to look. Instead, I see Jesus, His eyes drawing me to the provision of the present, in His presence, as He and I peer into the future together.
My Father not only wants to hear from me, but He wants me to see Him beside me right where I am, right where He's working. As I wait, I stand in deepening communion with Him.
The Lord is gifting us with many who are being readied to go further and deeper on this Christlike journey. He's gifting us with time to get there together. He's gifting us with the trust that's needed to pursue healing and the future together.
Where do you find yourself right now?
Who can you share with?
What are you and Jesus talking about?
How are you knowing His presence and love right where you are?
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
- Matthew 11:28-29 (MSG.)
Today I came home from a silent overnight retreat. As Spring began here in New England, I wanted to press pause on my responsibilities and enjoy how the Spirit has been forming and freeing me in life with Him lately. Seasons come and go and come again, ebbing and flowing like ocean waves on the sand. Winter gives nature a time to rest from its work of producing before Spring calls it to wake again.
I often think of the connections between human life and all God's creation around us and how He calls a soul out to life after times of dormancy. When we can't process each layer of our pain the Spirit is still working in the dormancy of our waiting. Sometimes, we actually start thinking that it’s God we’re waiting on to act and make a change in our life, but it’s really Him asking, “Are you ready to enter into this with Me?” "Are you ready to join Me on the soil where I'm already working?"
If we watch, God has created seasons to speak to us, and one thing He seems to be saying again is that we don’t have to remain where we are because we're created for a life changing relationship with Him.
There's so much hope in His invitation. We all have had formative experiences that have changed us and left an important part of us wounded, questioning our worth. I can't picture better imagery for the life of the soul than the ever-flowing rhythms of the seasons, and Spring above all others is the testimony of what appears hindered and stuck is just waiting for more light to shine on it. This means there's hope for the place in you that's been waiting for assurance, healing, and love.
Above all of creation, God wanted to create us with enough intellect to choose to tend this inner life of the soul with Him or not. We're actually able to lean in or avoid it. But, the journey Jesus invites us on with Him is about full restoration. He wants to heal and make us whole so that we don't only bear His image because He created us, but become people who look and think and feel like Him too. New life is waiting this Spring.
Where are you being invited to come out of your waiting and join Him where He's already working? What spot on the soil of your soul does He want to bend down and look at with you?
Sit down in some stillness or take a slow walk in nature. Be mindful of what imagery from "Spring" seems to speak to the life of your soul right now. Watch for His holy invitations in this new season of hope and reach out for support.