An Act of Surrender

Surrender

Seeing that I had forgotten my choir music at rehearsal one evening, my friend held her music between us so I could look on with her. I was puzzled by a note she had written in the margins of her sheet music: “Listen to Sheri.” I asked her what it meant, and she explained that at a previous rehearsal she had struggled to find a note in a particularly challenging chord. Hearing that I had it, she wrote that message to herself as a reminder to listen to me. I chuckled at her answer, saying, “Listen to Sheri…that’s pretty good advice for all things in life, isn’t it?”

As we turn our focus this month towards the theme of LISTENING…we begin with an act of surrender.

So often the voice that guides us in our lives is our own. The inner voice that dictates our plans and goals. That maps out our path to success or victory. Putting it simply…most of the time we think we know best. Like the former President who once said, “I am the decider!”—we’re convinced that our way is the best way. We even become frustrated when those in our lives (hint, hint…our children!) don’t listen to us. Controlling everything around us becomes a defense. Our control is the only thing we feel is keeping us together…when perhaps it’s the very thing holding us back from truly growing in our faith.

If we are committed to listening to God’s call in our lives, we need to surrender. To give up our need to control, to manage, to decide, to be in charge.

Thy will be done.

When Jesus approached Simon and Andrew, casting their nets on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he offered them an invitation. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” (Matthew 4:19).  The two brothers immediately dropped their nets and followed him…and their lives were changed forever.

It takes practice—listening to God. Letting God lead us and guide us might not come naturally at first. But we must remember that God has chosen us and comes to us with an invitation. How will we respond? Are we open to the mystery of God’s plans for our lives? Complete surrender is not an easy thing. In battle, surrender signals defeat. It implies a loss of control and a giving up or giving in. To surrender to an enemy is a failing act of last resort.

But to surrender to God’s loving plans is something else altogether. Our ego-driven belief that we know best falls away as we begin to trust God. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

To surrender to God means…

  1. to love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul,
  2. to trust that God is working in your life, and
  3. to believe that God will meet all of your needs.

This LOVING and TRUSTING and BELIEVING can be done through prayer and examination. Ask God what it is in your life that is most in need of your surrender. To what are you gripping too tightly? What nets do you need to let go of so you can follow Jesus?

Thy kingdom come; thy will be done.

It’s during these moments of surrender that the deepest listening takes place. If we open ourselves to the invitation with unclenched fists and open hearts, we will be ready to discover God’s plans for us.

And ready to follow wherever God may lead.

 

Background photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Filtering out the Background Noise of Life

yoga

Last year I signed up for a weekly yoga class during my lunch hour. The class was called “Sweat and Surrender” and I thought it would be the perfect break to de-stress from my day and return to work relaxed and rejuvenated. The class was great, and the instructor was gentle and encouraging. There was only one thing preventing me from enjoying it…the very loud Zuumba class held in the room next door.

Yoga takes concentration. You need to focus and listen—both to the instructor and to your own body as you move through the different postures. The Zuumba music was so distracting, I could never reach this level of focus. I tried my best to ignore it. To tune it out. But I just couldn’t.

We all move through life with varying degrees of “background noise.” We try our best to tune it out, but it can become a significant challenge to hear—and really listen—to the voice of God. The noise is always there to distract us, pulling us away from the calm, the stillness, and the focus we need to listen to our Creator.

Can you identify the background noise in your life? For most of us, it begins with the general hectic pace of today’s world. We get used to it until we don’t realize how truly “noisy” our lives have become. It’s so important to retreat once in a while. To escape from the noise and be still. I’ve written about silence and breathing in the past. Both are excellent ways to minimize the background noise of a busy life.

Maybe the background noise you struggle with is negativity. Fear is always there, waiting to drown out any truths we might hear from God about trust, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s promises, and the knowledge that God is carrying us and caring for us always. Negativity can build up inside us like an automatic response, until it becomes a thick wall that blocks out God’s messages in our lives. It can take practice, but you can intentionally turn your thoughts towards God when you feel negativity creeping in.

And finally, our own Inner Critic can be a damaging source of background noise. Telling us were never going to be good enough, the voice of the Inner Critic is loud and constant and very hard to turn off. But if we’re aware of it, we can recognize it and name it and begin to strip this voice of its power. And once you do you’ll be better able to listen for the Voice of Truth—the Voice of your loving God. The Voice that says you are loved and accepted exactly the way you are!

During the month of February, I’ll be writing about the importance of LISTENING in our faith lives. When we pray, we do a lot of talking (Please! Thank you! Help me! Do this!) If you can be still and quiet long enough, you’ll begin to hear God speaking to you. Messages of love that are unique and meant for your ears alone.

I’ve joined a new yoga class this winter. It meets in the evenings in the library of an elementary school. The room is quiet and peaceful with dim lights and an inspiring, gentle-voiced instructor. It’s just what I was looking for…but never would have found if I didn’t make the decision to leave the noisy environment of my old class.

Take some time this week to examine the background noise of your life. What’s the “Zuumba music” that might be preventing you from hearing God’s whisper? How might you minimize that noise and focus on what really matters?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Fully Known By God

god is faithful week 3.jpg

Background photo by Aaron Lee on Unsplash

Who is the person in your life that knows you best?

Most of us reveal ourselves to others in bits and pieces. Depending on the setting, the circumstances, or the nature of the relationship, we let people see only parts of us. We hold back things that we don’t want others to see, for any number of reasons. For most of us, it is a rare few individuals that truly know us. And even then, there might be things we still keep to ourselves, even from those we are closest to.

In Psalm 139 we encounter a God who knows everything about us. When we sit and stand. A God who knows our every thought and where we are at every moment. A God we cannot hide from…who is always there. “How can I get away from your Spirit? Where can I go to escape from you? If I go up to the heavens, you are there. If I lie down in the deepest parts of the earth, you are also there.” (Psalm 139:7-8)

When I was young, the idea that God knew everything about me made me nervous and uncomfortable. It felt like someone reading my diary. With my immature understanding of sin, I felt like God was watching me, waiting for me to do something wrong or make a mistake. I wondered if God was listening in on my unkind or jealous thoughts. I could pretend to be this perfect person to those around me, but God knew the truth.

I didn’t like that feeling.

Maybe there are some of you who still feel that way. Catholic guilt is very real! Our images of God from childhood (as a stern judge or a scolding parent) stay with us through the years.

As I matured in my faith, I no longer saw God as an administer of shame but as a source of mercy and forgiveness. Like the line from the Pretenders song, “Nothing you confess, could make me love you less.”  That’s how I began to see God…and gradually the idea of being fully known by God was something that I welcomed. Now it gives me incredible comfort. The act of surrendering all that I am to God feels like the strongest safety net. The firmest foundation.

I encourage you to challenge the view you may hold of God as “law enforcement,” who only makes an appearance in our lives when we do something wrong. A picture of God waiting to dole out punishment. A God who is trying to “catch us” in moments of sin. Challenge this view and spend some time with the God who created you, chose you, blesses you, and calls you.

What does it mean to be known by God?  

“God, your thoughts about me are priceless. No one can possibly add them all up. If I could count them, they would be more than the grains of sand. If I were to fall asleep counting and then wake up, you would still be there with me.” (Psalm 139:17-18)

You were created to be loved by God. When you are feeling alone, and hopeless, God is there…loving you still. Nothing you confess could make God love you any less. God offers us prodigal mercy and radical grace. More than we deserve or could ever earn. When you struggle with doubt or fear, bring those feelings to God, who will not flinch from your angriest thoughts or your most desperate questions.

Christian author Kelly Minter writes: “To be known more wholly than we can know ourselves. To be known more deeply than others can know us. This is the knowing with which God knows us. But do not be afraid…for He loves us wholly still.”

To be fully known and still fully loved is an incredible gift. You don’t have to earn it. It’s not like getting picked for a fraternity, being chosen for a job, or having someone choose you on an online dating site. God wants to know each and every one of us. We are His beloved children. His chosen ones. Our names are written on the palm of His hand.

Your name is written on the palm of God’s hand.

As you ponder this amazing thought, my prayer for you is that you will surrender to God, who knows you and loves you unconditionally. A love that is beyond measure. A love that is faithful and unshakable. Live in that love. Wake up each morning telling yourself: “I was created to be loved by God.” Amen!

Come As You Are

god is faithful week 2

Background photo by Frank Mckenna on Unsplash

A few years ago my husband and I spent an amazing week on a tropical island in the Caribbean. The weeks leading up to the vacation were stressful for me. I was tired from work, pale and washed out from the long winter. I was fighting a cold, and my lower back had a consistent ache from sitting for long hours at work. And I had not reached my ideal weight for wearing a bathing suit. I was putting so much pressure on myself to “fix” all of these things before we left. This was a trip of a lifetime and I wanted everything to be perfect.

Seeing how anxious I was, my husband said: “Isn’t the point of the vacation to rest and heal and relax?” The thought hadn’t occurred to me, and his words calmed me down right away. I didn’t need to be perfect before I arrived. I could come to our vacation exactly how I was. Let the sun, the ocean, and the tropical air work its magic on me.

Come as you are.

This is God’s invitation to us—to know us and be in relationship with us just as we are. Wounds, regrets, scars, bruises, and doubts…God wants all of it. We don’t have to do any frantic preparation in order to make ourselves “ready” for God. We just need to show up. All I needed to do to enjoy the healing benefits of that tropical vacation was to get on the plane. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “God doesn’t want something from us, He simply wants us.”

You don’t have to be perfect before you come to God. You are made perfect in God’s love. You don’t need to fix yourself so that God will accept you. Bring your deepest wounds to God and let the healing begin. You don’t need to rest up so you’ll have the energy to be what God wants you to be. You can find rest—and profound peace—in God.

In words attributed to Abigail Van Buren, “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.” Whatever your experience of faith or worship is, think of the doors to a church as a metaphor for your relationship with God at this moment. Where do you find yourself? Outside the closed door…afraid to open it and come in? Or maybe standing in the open doorway…peering inside, wondering if there’s a place for you?  

You don’t have to be a “saint” or saintly to live a life of faith. Very few people are! In my experience, so many of us hold ourselves back from a truly authentic relationship with God because we feel inadequate or “not enough.” In her book Days of Deepening Friendship (2009) Vinita Hampton Wright writes: “No matter what state you’re in when you enter the Room, it has no impact whatsoever on God’s love for you. God’s invitation is sweet and clear: Come in! There is so much to know and to experience. And you will be astounded by the divine moment called love.”

Our faithful God provides all the love, healing, and rest we could ever need.  All we need to do is show up.

After a week of lying on the beach, sleeping late, and feeling the warmth of the sun—I was transformed. My cold faded away, my skin lost its winter pallor, my aching back was healed from long soaks in the hot tub and a massage. (I confess I didn’t make any progress on reaching my ideal weight…all-inclusive buffets are really, really tempting!) The healing and restoration my husband promised me would happen, happened that week. I simply needed to trust that it would.

For the next week I ask you to trust in the faithfulness of our loving God. Trust that God will welcome you with open arms. Come as you are and accept God’s invitation. Open the door and come inside. Just simply show up…and let God take care of the rest.

Leave your prayers or thoughts on this reflection in the comments section below!

The Unfailing Faithfulness of God

waves hitting rocks

Happy New Year!

The beginning of a new year is a season marked by change. We come up with a list of resolutions…things we want to change about the way we live our lives. Our health. Our habits.  Our goals and dreams. My sister and I like to call this month Jan-NEW-ary. (One of my resolutions is to be more consistent with posting to this blog!)

But the passage of time can also bring unwelcome change. Sickness, job loss, a change in relationships or circumstances. When this happens the ground shifts beneath us and we feel unsteady—unsure of what lies ahead. Change that is unplanned can lead to stress, anxiety, and a host of other uncomfortable feelings, all of which are rooted in fear.

During times like this, it helps to remember something that will never change.  

“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9)

One of my best friends experienced a great deal of loss in her life over a short period of time—losing two dear friends to cancer followed by the death of her father. Not knowing how best to comfort her, I sent her a card with one simple phrase:

“I’m not going anywhere.”  

I wanted her to know that she could count on me. That I would be there for her. The solid ground she could cling to when so much else was slipping away. I couldn’t bring back her loved ones, but I could offer her my presence. I could be loyal and steadfast. I texted her several times a day for weeks on end, hoping she would trust in my promise. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but she later told me how much it helped her, just knowing I was there.

God is just like that. The most loyal friend you’ve ever had. The one who will always stand by you, no matter what. The one who welcomes you with open arms no matter how long you’ve been away or out of touch. The one who always tells you the truth, sticks up for you, and loves you exactly the way you are.

“He has given us both his promise and his oath, two things we can completely count on, for it is impossible for God to tell a lie. Now all those who flee to him to save them can take new courage when they hear such assurances from God; now they can know without doubt that he will give them the salvation he has promised them.” (Hebrews 6:18)

Life throws us a lot of curveballs. It’s easy to doubt the future. But we never need to doubt God’s love for us, His presence in our lives, or His plans for us.

God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, but we can’t always know how it will unfold. (At times His plan may seem to directly contradict our own plans!) But we know that God is there to walk alongside us and hold us up, giving us strength and hope. Most importantly, God offers us unconditional love, mercy, and grace. This will never change. We can cling to—and count on—the unfailing faithfulness of God.

For the month of Jan-NEW-ary, I hope to focus on this theme of God’s faithfulness. (Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below!) As you move into 2019, I pray you will feel His presence more strongly than ever before. When you fear anything in your life changing or slipping away, picture God whispering to you:

“I’m not going anywhere.”

A Foundation of Faith

house on rock

I walked into my bedroom the other day to find my husband teaching our boys how to tie a tie. We didn’t have any special occasions coming up so I asked him what prompted this.

“They’ll be leaving for college soon. I only have five more months to teach them grownup stuff.”

Later that week he took them outside to show them how to jump start a car.

I understood what he was doing. He wanted to give them a foundation before they left us. To make sure they had what they needed to launch into adulthood and live on their own. It’s the same reason my dad taught me how to balance a checkbook and my mom taught me how to cook before I left for college.

It got me thinking about my own foundations – figurative and literal.  My dad is a homebuilder and when I was a little girl he would take me and my sisters to new developments where basement foundations had been poured and dried, ready for the framing of a new home. These lots became our playground. Holding tightly to my dad’s hand, we used to run across the hardened concrete like a wide balance beam.  The foundation was strong and sturdy.  We knew it would hold us up.

That’s what our faith does for us…it holds us up. It’s solid and steady and helps us feel safe and grounded when the winds blow and the rains lash. Jesus beautifully illustrated this during his Sermon on the Mount:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”  (Matthew 7:24-27)

We often talk about faith as something we have to initiate.  We have to “practice our faith” or “believe.”  And because of this, we may find that our relationship with God swells and dips, and sparkles and fades over the years. But there’s another way to look at it.  Our gift of faith is in fact initiated by God, our loving Creator. Just like parents doing their best to provide their children with the tools they need to succeed in life, God has provided us with everything we need. The foundation of God’s love, strength, and power is always there.  Steady and strong…like a rock. “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.” (Psalm 18:2)

All we really have to do is what Jesus teaches us:  “Listen to these words of mine and act on them.”

And keep clinging to the Rock of Ages, no matter what.

 

Background photo by Pedro de Sousa on Unsplash

Praying to be Disturbed

Wind sunset picmonkey

How many of you have the same basic routine for Lent, year after year? Or maybe you have the same habits that guide your spiritual life throughout the whole year. Although there’s something very comforting about these routines, they can also turn into a kind of “spiritual inertia,” and Lent can be a wonderful time to shake of that inertia and allow ourselves to be disturbed.

What does it mean…to be disturbed? It’s a word that has a pretty negative connotation, doesn’t it?  When something is disturbing, it’s usually not good.

Not necessarily.

Picture the way a strong wind disturbs the branches of a tree, moving them and shaking them a little. Now imagine that wind is the Holy Spirit blowing through your soul. How is it moving you? In what ways is it stirring up your faith? Let yourself embrace this feeling instead of avoiding it. This is called “Holy Disturbance.” It prevents us from playing it safe or phoning it in.

I read an article where the author described Jesus’s constant re-entry into our lives as a type of chaos. Jesus enters, we push him away. Just when we get back to our own sense of what’s safe and routine, Jesus enters once again. His presence is something we often resist because we don’t know where it will lead, and we’re afraid of the change it might bring.

Now maybe calling it “chaos” is a bit harsh. I’m not sure that’s exactly how I would describe it. I once heard someone refer to this feeling in way that spoke to me: “God is trying to ruffle my feathers,” she said. She knew that God was calling her to do something different. She wasn’t quite sure what it was, but she sensed she needed to be open to it.

My birthday is in December, and a few years ago it fell on a Sunday. I announced to my husband that the only thing I wanted to do for my birthday was stay in my pajamas all day, curl up on the couch, and watch the latest Avengers movie. My husband went a bit pale because unbeknownst to me, he had arranged for all of our friends to join us with their families for a massive traveling scavenger hunt, looking for various Christmas related items. (You had to find and take pictures of things like a carton of eggnog, a Santa on a rooftop, a decorated mailbox, an outdoor nativity scene, etc.)

I had to very quickly shift gears. Instead of my relaxing day on the couch, I would go on an exciting, breakneck journey through the neighboring towns, ending with a rowdy and fun lunch at a local restaurant. Not at all how I expected my day to go, but so much more fun and meaningful than what I had planned for myself.

At the post-scavenger lunch one of my dear friends asked me if I wanted to join her for an Advent candlelight labyrinth walk later that evening. Now, if she had called me when I was in the middle of watching the Avengers, I can guarantee I would have said no. I would have been firmly rooted to my couch with no desire to go anywhere. But the scavenger hunt had already “disturbed” my plans and opened my heart to this spirit of adventure. So I said “yes,” and my birthday ended with an incredibly moving, peaceful and faith-filled walk through a silent labyrinth experience.

During this last week of Lent and Holy Week, spend some time thinking about how you react to change. Do you welcome it, or do you shy away from it? What if you began to look at change as God calling you? A calling that stirs your heart and moves you to a deeper level of faith. How often do you say “yes” to those opportunities?

Before you start to feel overwhelmed, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a huge life-changing event. You don’t have to move to an impoverished nation to serve the poor or give up your career to pursue a certain ministry. (Although there are plenty of shining examples of saints and modern day disciples who do these kinds of things!) But we can also pay attention to the smaller holy disturbances in our daily lives.

So, if you feel like you’ve gotten into a rut this Lenten season. I offer you this old anonymous prayer to reflect on.

“Disturb me, Lord, when my dreams come true, only because I dreamed too small. Disturb me when I arrive safely, only because I sailed too close to the shore. Disturb me when the things I have gained cause me to lose my thirst for more of You. Disturb me when I have acquired success, only to lose my desire for excellence. Disturb me when I give up too soon and settle too far short of the goals you have set for my life. Amen”

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week!

What Should I Pray?

Sit With Me Prayer

Dear God,

I’m not quite sure what to say to you today. Is it ok with you if I don’t say anything? Can I just be aware of your presence? Will that be enough? I picture you out there. It’s comforting, but you’re not as close as I’d like you to be. Can I picture you within me instead? A spark of life deep down inside? Offering answers, hope, love, and comfort. A tiny spark to be sure, but it’s there. Let me just sit with this knowledge for today. That your spark lies within me. I don’t need to go outside of myself searching for it. I don’t need to sift through the rubble of broken hearts, bigotry, violence, and judgment to find you.  You abide in me, offering me all that I know is true and right. Maybe what feels like my gut instinct is really you, telling me what you wish and dream for me. I can follow that if I know it’s you.

AMEN.

Why Did God Become Human?

Nativity

As men and women of faith, Christmas means a lot of different things to us. It’s a season of hope, love, and promise. It’s a time of stillness, joy, and praise. It’s about peace. But if you boil it down to its very essence, Christmas is really about one thing.

The birth of Jesus Christ is the quiet and stunning moment in time when God became human.

As Max Lucado ponders in his book An Angel’s Story: “Jesus entered our world not like a human but as a human. He endured puberty, pimples, hot weather, and cranky neighbors. God became human down to his very toes. He had suspended the stars and ladled out the seas, yet he suckled a breast and slept in hay.”

Why did he do this?

God is all powerful, all knowing, and perfect. Why would He come to us as a human being, with all the limitations that come with being human?

Hundreds and hundreds of books can be written on this topic – God became human to save us, to die for us, to help us know God and become more like Him. I believe one of the reasons God did this was to understand our suffering. Jesus entered a world filled with the vast range of human emotions…including pain. He experienced it himself. He cried tears of grief and sorrow when his friend Lazarus died. He felt the brutal betrayal of Judas Iscariot. He experienced the pain of each nail as he was crucified. I don’t believe there’s any measure of pain we experience that Jesus didn’t experience too during his time on earth.

God does not want us to see Him as a remote and distant figure. He wants our relationship with Him to be everything. He wants to know everything about us and feel everything that we feel. This was accomplished in Jesus Christ and the life he lived on earth. As Max Lucado goes on to say: “He wants you to know that he gets you. He understands how you feel and has faced what you face.”

As the Christmas season comes to an end, let us contemplate the wonderful gift that God has given us in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Exciting News to Share!

Epic Punk cover new mediumDear Readers:

You may have noticed that my blog posts have been a bit sporadic this year. I sincerely apologize for not keeping up with my spiritual reflections, but I’m thrilled to tell you about the reason why. After 8 years of writing, revising, pitching, hoping, getting rejected, almost giving up, and revising some more…my husband and I have finally published our book!

LABORS OF AN EPIC PUNK is a young adult fantasy novel set in the time of Greek mythology, right after the Trojan War.  It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old rebellious loner named Mac (short for Telemachus), who has to undertake a series of missions, not only to keep from getting expelled from school, but to march out of the oppressive shadow of his famous father, Odysseus. We feel our story has a good mix of humor, heart, romance, and adventure.

Think Clash of the Titans meets The Breakfast Club.

Our path to indie publishing has been exciting and rewarding, and we feel so blessed to have been able to work together on this creative endeavor. Mark and I give a marriage retreat called “The Power of Two” and this labor of love is the best example we can think of to show the fruits of pairing up in artistic partnership.

If you’re interested, or you know someone who likes this genre, our book is for sale on Amazon. Or click here for a sneak peek of Chapter One! We think readers of all ages will love this story, although our target audience is teenagers, grades 7-12. No need to worry about any mature content, the book is totally safe and appropriate for younger teens.

Thanks for listening and stay tuned for a more regular schedule of spiritual reflections in 2018!

Blessings of peace,
Sheri