Wrecked and burning the bridges – A story of 2015

burningship

If you have at any point followed this blog you know that i was at one time obsessively on top of it,  documenting the things that were at the forefront of my life.  But then life sped up, and the already limited time spent writing was suspended for the tyranny of the urgent.   In the midst of working a full time job for a salary, keeping a full time business flowing (i still dont get paid a paycheck for that one yet), keeping my house (if you can call it that), keepin my hubby organized as much as I can and keeping the dogs in control … would you believe i still love to read as much as i can get my eyes on.  Daily reading keeps the mind sharp and satisfies that need to learn, be challenged and to grow.

Life long learning is a serious theme of my life.  I have a bucket list of things I want to accomplish before  heaven is real.

I have wanted to work out this unresolved upheaval of my life and the stripping of any sense of normalcy that occurred in 2010 when we lost our income, our standard of living, and our purpose (short run).  This year (2015) was the one to lay down the grieving for what was, and fully embrace the life that is now. If you have ever been there it’s not easy to make that turn. Thank God for movement with this- because for so long it has felt like I was straddling a fence with one leg in the past, the other in the future and the present was the pokey fence digging and gauging into the middle of me.

But the truth is 2010 and those mosterous losses were a gift.  A scarey as hell gift that cast us out into deep water with only the provision God would bring. Like a scene from 1519 and ships burning in a harbor port somewhere in the Yucatan peninsula, I identified with Cortez.  There was no turning back- it is forward to the unknown with only the meager provisions, and the grace of God.

There was a freeing of a part of my soul that had been denied for decades, numbed to a whimper by the necessity to work a job, and live like 99% of college educated Americans. Years of obedience, timely-ness and accuracy, of learning to work with a full spectrum of personalities, some of which left deep scars, all making bigger and greater demands of my life, my time, and talent in exchange for a meager portion each pay.

Don’t get me wrong… I really love my experiences (well, I was not so fond of the years working for a women we called hitler’s little sister, but all of the work was interesting.  I am thankful for those years too because they taught me how to recognize and treasure that is working for good people, and to see the the kindnesses, the blessings.

But as the ship of ease and income hit the rocks of the harsh recession it was clear the ship was no longer sail able.  The recession had driven my ship to the rocks, wrecked, forever altered beyond repair.  So burn the ships and let’s conquer new land.  In one quick stroke i struck the match, turned to the dry hulk and lit it up.

That ship had more passengers than i thought.

Fear, my old traveling companion, was big and heavy baggage that had to be cut loose too. Fear always appeared when there was a moment of question, or a change of scenery.  Loud and exhausting to travel with, fear often held me down, gripped with a deep sense of overwhelming emotion.  Fear is a bully.  Fear is a liar.  Lets call this traveling companion what he is… a distortion, a betrayal to what is true, shackles on my feet, and someone who overstayed their welcome in my life.  Fear had traveled these 50 some years with me but it was time… he had to go.  So there in sight of the burning hulk of my former life I parted ways with old Gripping Fear. He chased after me for a long time, but I would not take him back-no, never again would I sit debilitated by him again.

Doubting Doubt, a more quiet of the traveling companions, was always there when we rounded the bend of a new portion of the journey.  Doubt always had strong opinions too, loved to express disbelief in my life, or God’s ability to lead and provide for it.  Doubt brought along others – Shyness, Insecurity, and Procrastination.  Doubt, while quiet, was one of the most destructive voices… often engaging my whole energy, and altering my responses to life itself.  When I first lost my job doubt was there to assure me i would probably not make it, and something hideous was to come next. Doubt often planned, organized and threw lavish parties in my living space, ushering in procrastination who was always dating insecurity.  They kept me up at night, spending long hours speaking to me of anything but truth and peace.

Raging Resentment was a dangerous guest, bubbling through the surface and constantly trying to get me to remember injustices, and events that were not fair.  Like a cruel animal constantly taunting its prey, Resentment kept on coming.  But i knew better.  One small sip of resentment would be deadly poison to my soul.   For you see, I believe every thing that happens in life is filtered through the gentle hands of our great God.  And i believe there are lessons to learn about life, and my own sick soul, which require tough doses of medicine to protect myself from such poison.  Resentment still tries to whisper soft and velvety smooth thoughts about how injustices should be repaid.  But she lies.  She speaks only in ways that will bring death to my soul.  I meet her with my new friend Forgiveness, who reminds her that every event is an opportunity to let go, love and move forward.  Resentment runs away, licks her wounds and regroups… She is a challenging enemy of my soul.  Yes, she must go too.

One challenging companion that lingered was Guarded Grief, who at every opportunity lamented and was found weeping over the burning hulk of what once was.  She was not consolable, and there was no common ground to be found to negotiate with her . Almost like a pouting and tired child that demands their voice, Grief continued to grab the emotional reigns, and remains fixed on the trauma, the loss, the change.  Truth can be found in Grief.  And Grief must be handled with great consideration for she brings a perspective that is tough medicine.  But she must be dealt with gently and properly, or she will not go, and she will leave you stuck in places that drive others away.  So Grief demands her turn at the dance.  She offers compelling reason to drop back, assess, get angry, find a way of copng with factors beyond your control, and she waits for periods of time, an almost silent companion that walks with you in this place of loss.  Her company is bitter sweet because she brings a richness to a side of life few people want to deal with… and she can bring crystal clear vision, although often she puts on thick lenses of emotion.  Everyone offers advice for dealing with Grief.  I won;t add to it.  I can only say that it is up to you to find that place where the emotions and the deep senses of loss give way to a new found purpose, and a new normal.  Grief can have a cruel side too…. like the smell of baking bread harkens me to memories of my mom, and the intense sense of loss even though it has been 23 years she is in heaven.  Grief seeks to poke and prod with reminders that are essentially good things.  She is a master of tweeking emotions when we least expect it.

Have you ever imagined the traveling companions that have shared your journey? Some of these were old friends, a part of my life for as long as i could remember.  It would be odd to release them, and move forward without them.  But this is what needed to occur.  And this is what happened.

Yes, there on the beach, feet from the burning hulk of my former life I announced my separation from these companions.  I announced my complete break from them, and refuse to travel one more step together.  And there, on the sandy beaches of a new life I gazed at the ship burning, thanked God for the new life to come, and accepted his invitation to travel on abandoned to God.

In those moments of decision, of burning up the ship, abandoning the toxic companions of my past and of taking a deep sigh as i accepted the offer to travel with God there was a peace, and a sense of calm beyond words.  Abandoned, wrecked, but at peace.

While i have know Jesus, and have had a strong relationship with him for 30 years now, this was a deeper calling.  The call was to lay down my trust in myself and my ability to earn and squirrel away money, but instead to watch, pray and ask for my needs because he would provide.  And he has. Over and over, in amazing ways the resources to pay bills, meet needs and survive have been there.  Sometimes seemingly impossible, often simply, and always to his Glory.

 

This is indeed a gift.  It is an opportunity to let go of everything, and let the priorities become reset, not to my own priorities, but to the greater good of a loving God.

I wanted to write this for a few reasons, but i must confess that it is very scary to write about coping with a major life event and subsequent transition because it is personal.  In a human sense it could be deemed an epic failure.   Or it makes people uncomfortable because they fear the struggle and loss is contagious. No, a thousand times no, it is not contagious.  If you have not sensed the deep water of loss, nor struggled to find a new normal in your life I cannot explain in a way you would relate to fully.   These life changes are something individual, personal, yet if you will not be disabled by them, they are transformational.  The depth of grief and loss caused me to dig deeper, love greater, set better priorities, and follow harder after God.

Something changed in me.  The stripping away of all the extraneous was not the only thing.  The process made me see how this life is fleeting, and we only have a finite time her to bring glory to God, and allow him to use our lives to build his kingdom.  The burning ship reminded me that just about everything in our life is subject to that test.  Will my character, my word, my actions stand the test of fire to bring forth silver and gold  for the master, or will they go up like the ship, burned to a crisp with nothing to remain?

This gift comes with a price.  It becomes challenging to be around people who have not embraced such change, or who have not been called to this change, yet this is where I am. And this is who i am.

 

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Remembering an injustice

Having been raised as the daughter of 1st generation Americans of Russian decent I have always been fascinated by Russian History.  And especially I was and remain interested in the history of the ruling monarchs of Russia.  And of the tragic end of the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II along with his wife, daughters and son.

Today, July 17th, marks the 96th anniversary of the horrible execution of the last monarch and his family.Nicholas and Alexandra raised 4 beautiful daughters – Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and 1 son, the heir of the throne, Alexi.  Alexandra, was the daughter of the House of Hesse, and grand daughter of Queen Victoria of England.  Nicholas was first cousin to the house of Windsor.  And the Romanov family ruled Russia with power and an opulence few would ever see that mirrored the barons of industry.  Sadly, they lived in a turbulent age, with growing unrest, the growing rebellion of citizens who had given heed to the voice of communism, or had grown weak because of lack of jobs, or food.  For such an age, the Romanovs became pawns of civil war, and on this day in 1918 they were executed in an old home in Ekaterina, Siberia where they were exiled as prisoners.

So today I want to remember their legacy, and the great loss that the world suffered at the hands of the communist experiment that was the overthrow of the monarchy.  How tragic, and what potential was lost.

In a wicked world its good to know we have hope

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
    Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
    Let your eyes behold the right!

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night,
    you have tested me, and you will find nothing;
    I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
    I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
    my feet have not slipped.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
    incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show[a] your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity;
    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They have now surrounded our steps;
    they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
12 He is like a lion eager to tear,
    as a young lion lurking in ambush.

13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
    Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.[b]
You fill their womb with treasure;[c]
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness  —-Psalm 17

its been a month since we cut off the TV, and limited the endless drone of bad news, tragedy, fear breading flashes of a culture and a world sliding ever farther from its moorings, and ever more from the world a perfect and loving God created and said was good.    I’m not sure how these constant waves of negative and life taking information affects you, but as for me i can say it profoundly affects me.  Hearing news of perfect strangers is one thing, but as bad things happen to good people around us the news becomes more personal, and the reminder that we are just travelers in this life, heading for a city who’s builder and author is our great God.

Psalm 17 was penned by David in the height of his struggle with King Saul, who was hunting him like a dog.  Hiding in caves, and on the run to preserve his life, David literally knew two very clear things:

  1. He knew the character of his God, our God  – God will hear him, and will answer him, he gives loving kindness to him, preserves him from evil and wicked people,  Delivers him. and satisfies him.  He knew and understood his place in God’s Kingdom – apple of God’s eye.  If we can just wrap our minds around the thought that we are chosen, called, and so very much loved it would change our perspective, wouldn;t it.
  2. He recognized there is a war, and there is a very real enemy that is seeking to destroy him.  That same enemy is alive today, working hard to tear us apart, shred us… whether it is physical, spiritual, mental, financial – David knew he must be on guard, girded for battle, not letting down the guard.  While we are not physically being chased about the country by an army, we are in a real sense being pursued by the enemy of our soul.  If he can knock us off our blocks, invalidate our testimoney, reduce our capacity through insecurity, disbelief, anger, or any of the thousands of ways he tries then the work of reflecting the glory of God, and sharing the hope of Jesus will be limited.

I must tell you that since I began to plan the ladies conference at our church the war came home to my head, and my heart.  Insecurities I have never experienced before have visited me, trying to draw me into the vortex of doubt.  And people around me have been going through deep challenges, spiritual struggles, physical battles.  In my own heart and head i have run to Jesus to just clear the fog, disable the fears, and clarify again what I believe he called me to do.

So I have been praying hard, and spending more time with the Lord, seeking wisdom for life.  And here is what i have found:

  • Just like any relationship, thoughts and words have only as much power as you give them.  When the doubts, disbelief, misunderstandings, and confusion creep in the best idea is meet it head on, call it out for what it is – UNTRUE, and give the thought, idea, words, emotions to Jesus.  Give no room for the thoughts to grow, or develop – turn them over to Jesus and leave them there.
  • Spend some time assessing your heart.  Here are a few questions to ask:

– What have I allowed to creep into my heart or mind that might raise this doubt/disbelief/emotion?

                               – Have i invited the enemy in through some involvement with something or someone that is not a believer?  or an evil practice?
                               – Have i confessed anything that needs to be confessed, and repented of all that needs to go?
I heard a wonderful and clarifying teaching by Tony Evans, of the Urban Alternative and the sum of what he said is this – The war is real, and the enemy of our souls will continue to try to pound in, entrench in.  But he will only have what we allow him to take.  So take back your heart, your mind, your emotions and yield them only to Jesus, and give NO ROOM for doubt, mistrust, discouragement, or any other thought or emotion that will break you down.  Repent, give it to God, and fill the void with the words, thoughts, songs, sights that bless, build up, strengthen, and grow your heart.   We may be powerless, but our Great Savior is All Powerful to overcome anything the enemy would bring.

Lean into the pain

If you woke up each day and that one nagging prayer request you begged God to answer was never answered what would you do?  How would you cope?  Would you accept the silence, and embrace the situation?  Would you slowly dull spiritually as you focused on yourself?  Would you continue to believe, pray, wait and watch?  Or would you run in another direction?

If you woke up each day to a house that is noticeably silent because you do not have a spouse, or your spouse is no longer there (whether dead, or divorced), how would you go on? 

If you woke up each day to that incredible pain, that reminder that our bodies are not in an eternal state, but slowly degrading, breaking down, how would you go on?  Would you lean into the pain, and push on to live?  Or would you draw back and make every effort to avoid pain?

If your obedience to follow Jesus at all cost appeared to separate you from life long friends, would you go on?

If you gave your very best to your job, worked incredibly hard, are punctual and productive, and offer your skills above and beyond, but your employer only points out some obscure shortcoming in your life but blessed the inept coworker with a big raise would you still work hard?  Would you still care?

If you were challenged with going on in a place in life that is the most challenging, or caving in to something that has the appearance of ease, relief from painful situations, but would take you from the narrow road to heaven what would you do?

I had a conversation with a friend recently who has been wrestling with a season of struggle, suffering, and profound pain.  She offered these questions with the hope of some answer that would be salve to the wounded soul. She has loved and followed the Lord for many years.  She has always been noted for a deep sense of joy, and of peace that only comes from God.  Her heart is so big and her love of people is so great.  And life has brought some deep and wounding scars to her heart.  These last few years have brought challenges larger than life, pain deeper than she has ever known, and a prayer request that has gone un-answered.

As I listened to her talk, and watched her face it was apparent she wanted a balm, a salve, an answer.  Like all of us, she wanted some of the nagging unwanted trials of life to just flee away, and allow for a time of  refocusing on the Lord, and allowing the heart to heal.

“You make beautiful things out of the dust…. You make beautiful things out of us…”

The song lyric was softly playing in the background, and I stopped to pray.  There it is.  We are in a place where the broken things in our lives are being made into new, blessed, special works only God can do.  For this season we may have been called to challenges that take us to our knees, grip our very soul, and show no sign of easing up, or appear to go unanswered….But we are not in heaven yet… and until we get there we will feel the sin scarred life on earth.  And we are human, our character is in development.  We are desperate for the power, strength and leading of our Great God.  Without his strength we are nothing….

So I turned back to the bible, to read passages that might give encouragement, leading, prompting and refocus of these issues.  At the heart of the matter it is where our heart is that will tell us how we will get through challenging things.

The book of Hebrews is where I gravitate when hard questions come… and the reason I go there is because that first century church was wrestling with many of these issues.  Some commentaries suggest that many of these believers were ostracized by society, kicked to the curb, treated as unwanted by society.  Some lost their prominence or position or power because of their faith in Jesus.  And some questioned if they should go on in this hard and rough path.

The theme of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ over all.  He is greater than everything that life can throw at us, or pile on us.  It is powerful, the argument is one that compels us to examine our faith, and this amazing gift of salvation.  Our time on this earth is temporal, but eternal life is forever… The pain and struggle will one day melt into a place of peace, free of disease, discouragement  or tears.  The compelling request is to drink deeply in the word, to find our peace in Jesus, and to follow the many examples of those who have gone before us.

We chatted about Hebrews, and about life.  Instant life application is always challenging.  Pain is something we want to run from.  Social scientists call that “fight or flight response”.  Physicists refer to the process as “ seeking the path of least resistance:.  If we are truly honest we will agree that nobody likes pain, or trials, or challenge.  And when the situation becomes protracted, continues far longer than we had imagined with no end in sight, we grow worn down.  We grow tired.  We want that path of least resistance to a place of freedom from pain.  And yes, we want to fly away from the pain.

Almost thirty years ago an older Christian told me one piece of advice that has both been a concept I have embraced, and a practice that has seemed odd.

Lean into the pain – Don’t shy away from feeling, sensing, living through the deep and challenging places where pain is real, whether physical, mental, spiritual.  Pain is a gift that we are given to understand life.  This gift helps us to learn more about the goodness of our God, and the way He works in our lives.  So when pain comes, and it will come, Lean into it. Embrace it and give it back to Jesus in prayer.  Simply acknowledge the pain to Him, and ask Him for help through it….. through it, not around it, but through it.  Ask Him to show you the lesson in this place, and ask for insight into the way this will be used for His Glory. 

There are many living examples of people who have wrestled with life in profound ways.  And when this struggle was yielded to the mighty hand of God the results have changed the world. 

 

I have been thinking through this idea of leaning into the pain. And over the past decade I have wrestled with it.  When my mom died in 1993 I knew that life would never be the same. The pain of her departure for heaven ripped a deep wound in my heart and soul, but as I took this to the Lord in prayer he began to work on my heart and the pain.  The waves of intense grief were less frequent, less intense, and in its place was a new set of eyes for those around me.  I saw the comfort of the Lord in my life through that pain… and I sensed the gift of ministering to others who have grieved in the way I received comfort.

Leaning into the pain can be distilled into a number of points, which are by no means a full list.  Here is what I believe it means:

1         Acknowledge the truth of the current situation.

2         Speak honestly to God about the current situation

3         Examine your heart

Pain is not the enemy, but a choice instrument used by God to refine his people, to conform us to his image, and to ultimately bring us to the place where we bring him the greatest possible glory.

Authority, leadership and challenge

Have you ever felt like the fly on the wall…. unable to effect change in a situation but completely aware of the situation?  For the past few months i have been observing something that is perplexing, and at the root a very spiritual matter.  There seems to be a growing lack of respect for one another, and a growing gap in strong leadership.  We see this with our nation, and the devastating economic decisions our current president has put in place.  But it rolls down to even the local church.  For the last decade there has been much written about Cleveland being void of strong leadership, whether in business, civic affairs, government or in the faith community.  There are some shining stars with strong communicative skills, but you must agree with me that there is a void.

Lets go back to basic physics – when there is a void, a vacuum will draw in what it can to neutralize and standardize pressure to match that which is without.  In civic life we are seeing power hungry people who may not always use power and position well…. Take the recent cuyahoga county scandals as an example that position does not beget good moral character.  Yes, these leaders make decisions that shape our lives in small and great ways.

In the church we are seeing that vacuum being filled with people who self appoint to ministry.  We are seeing people who do not have the gifting for leadership attempting to cease power, and accomplish ministry often in their own strength and wisdom.   Dangerous place to be…. both for those leaders, and for the rest of the church.   Some of these people  have not wrestled deeply with their own sin scars first.  Some lead with their own wisdom, not  thinking of the impact it has on others.  Scripture is clear that the church is to be guarded, and those who are brought into leadership should be scrutinized, “fruit inspected” for evidence that they are mature, knowledgeable and teachable, yet strongly able to uphold the solid doctrines of God’s Word as they point people to Jesus.  There must always be a gentle yet firm protection of the flocks of God.

I take scripture seriously.  I know that many passages about leadership are written with the utmost warning to not be eager to rush into the role because there will be a greater scrutiny, a greater judgement because of the role.  And every action, word, and way of dealing with life should fall into the complete surrender of Jesus first.  Ministry should come out of a greater work done by the Lord in our life and used as a gift to the church to draw people to the Lord.  Joni Erickson Tada speaks to a world about the hope in spite disability; Ravi Zacharias reaches the intellectual world with clear logic and the power of God’s word to break through the barriers of humanwisdom; Billy Graham reached out to the world with the simplicity of the gospel, and we have seen the spirit of God move a world to seek God.  Lives yielded to God, surrendering to leadership of the spirit of God, willing to learn, grow, be discipled, and in turn give to the church those gifts they have received from God.  Each leader should have key qualities:

  • The heart of a Servant – Following the example of Jesus, a good leader is surrendered to Jesus, and willing to serve, never holding themselves above another.  They are willing to do what it takes to advance the kingdom.  Leadership may be very public, or the quiet strength behind the scenes, but the heart attitude is one of humble willingness.
  • Teacher/Mentor – Always thinking of each situation as a teachable moment, willing to pour into others what God has given them, modeling how to live rightly, communicating the principles of the scripture with clarity through not just speech, but through how they live.  Always desiring to point people to Jesus.  (“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. – Titus 1:9-14)
  • Protector/Stewart – Each believer should take seriously the importance of holding God’s Word rightly: Knowing the truth of scripture, actively learning and studying to know what the truth is, and fiercely guarding that truth in order to prevent error from slipping in.  We are responsible for what we learn, and how it is shared with others.
  • Have good moral character – Scripture is clear that not everyone should lead.  Leaders should have shown by their lives that their moral character is stellar, their family life is in order, and they exhibit discipline.  All of this should be evident by their reputation as that of respect and honor.
  • Teachable – How many people in scripture learned the role through a process of being discipled, growing in knowledge, watching and learning how their mentor played out life.  Moses had Joshua; Elijah had Elisha; and on it goes.

These are challenging qualities that come not from self will to be like this, but through the power of God, and his annointing and direction to lead.   Leaders are called by God, powered by gifts the Spirit gives, and motivated by the move of God in their lives.

As i write this post my heart is heavy for several things i have heard of late… incidents where someone is in leadership that ought not be…yet.  They seem to disrespect their position enough to misuse it, and are causing a wake of grief, strife and hurt feelings.  My heart is heavy for these situations.  It is not good that such things happen.  The impact of one person who mishandles the position of leadership is a lot like a rock being thrown into a lake.  The waves ripple out and touch everyone in the area…  Each time a leader thinks more highly than they ought of themselves  crushing others around them, the delicate sanctity of the church family is compromised.  Each time those who are leaders overlook biblical principles and fill a void with someone that is not meeting the criteria of leadership another ripple is felt by the body.  That vacuum of leadership is not filled with what should be there, but with a compromised filler and the church is a little weaker, becomes a bit more vulnerable to attacks from the enemy, or the subtle compromise of other principles of scripture.  Each time this happens the church becomes a bit more weak, more vulnerable to spiritual attack, teaching of error, and crushing of believers.

What can we do?

  • Above all else, pray.  Take this to the Lord, and ask for intervention
  • If you are a leader, stand up to the role, take it seriously, and put on a careful sense of scrutiny of the church
  • If you are a leader, hold fast to the Word of God, study to show yourself approved, and by all means teach others.
  • Confront error in a biblical manner – speak with the person, and if they do not listen take another person and speak with them again.  If this is still unsuccessful, take them to the leadership of the church
  • Speak out for truth
  • Be responsible for your own life, your spiritual walk – and keep seeking, growing, studying so you know truth from error
  • Pray alot, pray hard, remain in prayer
  • Be responsible for mentoring someone else, and being mentored by someone.

Its a challenging age we live in, and we need to have strong leadership that will guard and protect, teach and model, and will guard truth with everything in their souls.  We as the flock of God can become responsible for growing, knowing what is truth, and for praying for our leaders.  And leaders need to step up to the role, and take it seriously.  Very seriously… because eternity hangs in the balance.

The simple yet profound impact of one prayer

Several years ago, in the midst of the challenging time of loosing my job and income i was reading a book written by Kay Warren, wife of the pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the popular book “The Purpose Driven Life.”  The title of the book i was reading was called “Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God“.  The title might scare off the faint of heart… but it was attractive to me because I felt i was in a turning point in my life, wanting to find clarity, purpose, and strength for the journey and the call on my life.  When you go through a seemingly traumatic place of loss, transition, challenge it is clear God is moving, and redirecting.  But under the surface I was a fragile child wanting to have enough faith to believe and follow God but gripped by anxiety and fear of the unknown.  I think i had forgotten who’s i was.

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Between my bible and this book i was reminded who I am, and that there is a plan and purpose for my life.  In summary, Kay wrote of how she was redirected from her vision of being a speaker and teacher (like her husband) to an advocate and voice for the world regarding AIDS and the desperate state of bondage, abuse and slavery throughout the world. Kay had a plan for her life, which was far different from the one God had for her.  Through struggling, and yielding she tells of her journey to embrace his plan for her life. Encouraged by others she traveled to places that are desperate, broken, painful. And she met some of the living (now dead) examples of christ in flesh, such as Mother Theresa of Calcutta.  Some poeple have said the subtitle of this book should be “a journey toward saying Yes to God”.   As i read the pages of her book I was both drawn to the statements of surrender, of yielding to the will of God, and of obeying when it seems far from my comfort zone.  And i must be honest that I was also a bit repulsed by the idea of being taken so far from the comfort zone we have come to know.

But then, there it was – a prayer that inspired her.  A prayer I immediately printed and hung on my desk, and placed in my bible.  If you know me, you know that i run from the written prayers of someone else.  Perhaps it is my Russian Orthodox roots, or the new found freedom of being able to speak freely to my creator in my own words.  But every now and then there is a prayer penned by someone that captures thoughts, and embraces the words that need to be said.  Kay penned John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

(as used in the Book of Offices of the British Methodist Church, 1936).

Those words, penned in the 18th century, jumped from the page of that book and beckoned me to follow. Yes, this is dangerous surrender.  But dangerous only in the sense that it will take us to places uncharted, adventures not yet written, and placed God, our father, has ordained for us to go if we would yield.

John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist movement which spread throughout Europe and America in the 18th Century.  In my research I learned that the prayer above is not the exact words – but as close as we could come. Wesley would hold Covenant Services to draw people to focus on God, and the work of sanctifying, rededicating and renewing faith.  Often these services would be held at the end of the year in preparation for a new year and a new start.

I remember studying the words because the language is an older version of English   In plain English – we don;t talk like that now. Each line called for the laying down of my control on life, career, health and who i am.

I learned in those moments just how much of a control freak i am, how much i want to be in some sort of control of the details of my life.  Yet there i was, lost my career job, income dropped from very comfortable to very uncomfortable, and it was clear that God was showing me He holds the control on our lives.

That night when i quietly prayed this prayer, and told God i am not my own, and acknowledged that his plan is the best choice there was a quiet assurance that this was a good place to be.  My world has turned itself upside down a few times, and here i am… the words of that prayer are engraved in my very soul… And there have been some profound things that have sprung up through this prayer:

  • Freedom from having to pursue hard at a career – Work has come, and income is there now; and i have freedom to do wonderful things that I sense the lord calling me to.
  • Release of the deep ingrained fears of letting go.  Have you ever held on to something so tightly that your hands cramp?  This was my relationship with fear – in a tight grip walking daily with new fears.  I love the verse “Perfect love casts our all fear.”  This is now much more true of me – i take my fear to Jesus, and lay it down for him…. it is not mine to deal with.  Simply i must trust him and his wisdom.  Whatever he calls me to He will see me through with his strength and protection.
  • I am free from striving – the work is not mine to do, but it is God’s, and he will take care of it.

So, what started as a new book to read, became a watershed of faith, of strength to move beyond what I was to a bit more of what God wants of me.

It is my prayer for you, the reader, that you will consider this prayer. Count the cost of praying it, knowing it may turn your world upside down.  But be courageous, be bold, and if you sense that God is calling you to pray this prayer by all means do so.

Seasons Change and so do I

Recently we attended the wake of the mother of an old friend.  The inevitable place we all end up, burying our parents, and accepting that time passes, we age and this life is so short and fragile.  As we gathered at the funeral home we wondered how the evening would go.  In the early 1990s our friend lived with us for two years after returning from a 4 year mission trip to New Zealand.  During the time he lived with us we transitioned from a large church to a smaller inner city work that was reviving ministry in an old neighborhood.  So the friends that came last night were a blending of a few churches, over a span of years.  It was a bit surreal to see them all together.  And to see how the years have been, how life has changed us, molded us, directed us, aged us.

At some point last night the realization settled in again that people come and go from our lives.  Some are meant to be there for a long time, others for a short while.  Some are meant to be cheerleaders of our life, encouragers, bringing words of strength, or wisdom.  Others are meant to drive us to our knees, keeping us in prayer, and introspectively looking at our lives to fine tune. Old friends, able to pick up conversation where it last left off – yes that was nice.  But some of those memories of why our lives took different paths began to come into view.  The strong willed personalities that refuse to believe anyone else has any place in speaking about life.  Oddly that same emotion of perceiving that nothing I say would be heard came flooding back again from those many years ago.  Differences in how we respect and uphold each other was clear.  .  And the person who was so negative that even saying hello took us to dark places… aha, moving on could be a good thing.  But what could leave some people stuck in a patch of negative 24/7 thoughts?  Is life so harsh that you cant stop for a moment to say something lifegiving?

Last night I found myself sitting before the lord and asking him to clarify and bring to my memory any ways I was not a life giving believer last night.  Funeral homes are difficult for so many people, or at least awkward at best.  We prayed we would bring hope and comfort to those grieving, and words that speak life into their souls.  And I think we did that.  And we prayed that we would offer hope and encouragement to old friends who have taken different paths, gone to different churches, or remained while we moved on.

I dont want to rose color paint life’s memories but likewise i think it is human nature to either focus on the positive always, ignoring blatant stressful things, or the very opposite… getting stuck where everything is negative, and just being around such people exhausts us.  In that short time of visiting people from the past I realized again how critically the world needs people who are encouragers, life givers, who choose to speak peaceful things, supportive things, encouraging each other.

A long time ago my mom told me that you never know what people are carrying with them or going through, and often the person who is the most kind and encouraging has learned to be this way through deep sorry and struggle with life.  As a child that was lost to me, but as i age i see the virtue of the statement.

So this is my prayer for today, and beyond:

Lord, take my mind, my heart, my lips, my tongue, my fingers- may each effort to communicate with others be filled with kindness, grace, and love.  May others see in me the very presence of Christ in me, which is the hope of glory, and as each encounter ends may there be life, hope, refreshment and joy.  May me that instrument of peace, and use my lips, my tongue, my fingers to express your grace, your love, your passionate pursuit of us.

Lord forgive me for judgemental thoughts about old friends.  Help them to grow strong, live strong in you, and grant them large measures of love and grace.  Thank you that you are teaching me daily about grace, and your wonderous mercy.  Amen

The slow slide

I think it first came to my attention as I watched my parents aging… walking a bit slower, loosing a little hearing, slowing down, slowing down a little bit each day.  Attention to those around us that are aging, graying, experiencing health, financial, and emotional reversals… What you could easily do several times over now becomes a difficult task, done at a fraction of the speed.

Aging is hard to watch in others, and inevitable for us each to experience.  Isn;t it?  Why yes it is.  One of those silly comedian lines that has hung with me since i heard it is “Well there is one thing for sure about life- we are all going to come to the end of it some day!  Yes, Death is one travel adventure we can not opt out of”

Today we learned of the mother of a friend passing on after several years of  significant decline in her physical and mental capacity.  We remember her as a bright eyed woman with the zest for life.  But recent facebook photos and videos remind us that the sin scars of this earth were grabbing and stealing more and more of her each day.

I know i have written about grief before… but for those of us who have walked alongside a loved one who is slowly departing this earth the memories come back.  The good days and bad days, the times when you look at your loved one and think “oh my, they are a shadow of what they once were.”  And a quiet sense of helplessness to change the situation takes us to our knees and prayer.  We may not have any power to change the situation, but God Almighty does.

I think often of the last year or two of my mom’s life, of how she went from a woman of deep strength – strong spiritual belief in God, and a strong determination to embrace whatever life threw at her.  Hands and feet severely crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritus but that never slowed her down… baking , cleaning, cooking… the house was spotless, life was in order.  Even her african violets knew they were loved and cared for.  Funny thing is after she died they were never the same….

So as i think about the transition of yet another special person from earth to heaven I return afresh to the emotions and memories of my own life experience… and I return to the only one who can make sense of this – God.

I wanted to leave this post not on a downer, but with words of encouragement, of comfort.  Here is a list that i put together for myself when my mom was aging quickly, getting more sick, and life was getting hard:

  • Take time with them – spend some quality time just enjoying their company, listening to their stories, sharing life.
  • Encourage them – Bring them flowers, or rent that favorite movie, buy them a fluffy bathrobe, or a new warm sweater.  Or just bring yourself, your family, your kids…. make them the center of your focus.  I would add – turn off the electronics – no pagers, no cell phones, no ipads, no electronics… just you and your loved one.
  • Take some time for yourself – do activities that will encourage you, nurture you, recharge your battery.  for me it is always reading my bible and art…. i can get lost in the depth of wisdom i find in the bible.
  • Remember the past, embrace the changing present, prepare for the future – I had a hard time letting go of the image of my mother as the strong nurturing caregiver, but realized the roles reversed.  Acceptance is hard, but it makes that time  so much easier for everyone.
  • Find a friend to talk to – have an outlet – a trusted friend that will be there to listen to you, and offer their support, encouragement, insight.  Often having another person helps you see the situation differently, and it is so nice to share the weight of this season of life with someone else.
  • Take pictures, stroll down memory lane, ask those hard questions you want to know about life, family history, and your loved one.  Journal, video, take photos, blog… but capture the memories.  One day they will be more precious.  I regret not having video taped my dad’s stories of WW2, and his life experiences… they were amazing and a wealth of information that never was recorded.
  • Read, and learn about health issues – find out details, ask questions  so you are educated on what is happening to your loved one.

We cant change the slow slide, but we can perhaps do it a little better.  End of life deserves dignity, respect, love  and admiration.

Funny thing, this grief is!

Yesterday Steve and I attended the funeral of the mother of a dear friend.  We have known her some 25 years, and watched how aging had taken over and initially it was small changes, but a year ago she had a very traumatic car accident that would take the biggest toll on her health and well being.

Funerals are so very challenging… they bring up memories and they stir the reminder that this life, this body, this existence is merely a short term one, on a grand journey to heaven and eternity beyond.  But it does not assuage the sense of our limited time here… and the pain of being seperated from those we have loved so deeply.  But there was hope, and humor, and lots of prayer.

I have to tell you i think often of having great control over emotions, but in the quiet of our home yesterday all I wanted to do was pick up the phone and give my mom a call, just to hear her voice.  She has been gone for 20 years… so that is kind of impossible.  And i thought of all of those last days of her life, how sadly the physical side was breaking down, limiting her, reducing her capacity, and ultimately allowing her to slip the bonds of earth.

Twenty years have passed… Countless others have come and gone, funerals attended, grave side prayers, condolences.  Most of the time it is not such a great impact on my emotions.  But this funeral stirred the grief monster again.  And as i rode the bus to work this morning with my headset on, listening to pandora, i heard a song that captured my thoughts, the palpable emotion of grief:

what do i know

Thoughts on change

I have been trying to write something each day on facebook about change…. digging into the resources of my soul for thoughts I might compile the list of what I have written so far:

Change, politics and stress bring out two distinct features: 1. They show you who your true friends are, and 2. You learn what is in the depth of your character.”

I am so very thankful for the community of friends and fellow believers who have rallied around, and lifted their voice in prayer for us. God is sovereign and he has us resting in his care. Knowing we are not alone makes it all the better to get through.

Thinking about change again, the critical thing today is to heal the past, accept the present, and yield the future to God – Note to self – let go. Not in wrestling but in resting.

Since the news of my job loss I have heard from a number of people and in every case they told me clearly the critical thing is to release the situation to the Lord, and allow healing to occur from the past. I have purposed to want to honor God in my life, and move forward with

Life changes, politics and stressful times bring out 2 significant things: 1. You learn who your true friends are, and 2. You learn the true depth or lack thereof of character of others. Thank you Lord for friends who are kind and tender hearted. And thank you Lord for eyes to see through the fog to the heart of truth.

This life holds its share of beauty, but the truth of the matter is that this is but a way station on the road to the tru and eternal home I will go to. “By faith Abraham sojourned in the land of promise as a stranger in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and jacob, the heris with him of the same promise. For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” – Heb 11:9-10

Change works to serve a purpose: It motivates us to keep our refrigerator clean, and our closet organized. This is a good time to do that with my life, and allow the time to reorganize, restructure and repoint my life.

Without change sometimes we would never fully grasp the grace of God, and the mercy he bestows to his own. Help me to know that grace, and not lean toward bitterness.  Amen”

Since writing this post, i pended it, and never published it.  As I reread this in light of my new job, and some stability in life again there was still a lot of importance to the message.  We need to be bendable, moldable, and adapt freely to changes that come.  One think that is certain is change.

And one final word – prepare.  Make plans and live in ways that will not leave you completely disabled if something goes away.  Prior to loosing my job i was tethered to it, it was my life line for financial stability. I never thought of other alternatives.  Today, post financial catastrophy i will tell you I have varied forms of income, some not dependent on an employer, and incomes from many directions.  Together they do not make up what i once earned, but it is more like a 4 legged chair – take away one leg and the chair will still stand up.

Embrace change, allow it to sweep you along to where God wants you to go. And accept this life as a grand adventure, not etched in stone, or carved in marble, but rather a living, flowing, changing thing.