Near or Far

foggy morning

There are times when I see you through a thick fog.
My eyes squint and strain…but you don’t take shape.
I want to BELIEVE you are near
But you seem far away.

There are days when I hear you through a pounding rain or a crashing sea.
I lean towards you…but your voice is faint.
I must HOPE you are near
But you sound far away.

There are moments when I feel you through a crowd,
They press and pull on me from every direction.
Feeling off balance and unsteady…I don’t know how or where to reach for you.
I need to TRUST you are near
But you feel far away.

Loving God,
Emerge from the fog
Sing through the storm
Touch my heart through the chaos
I will turn my eyes and ears – my whole being – towards you. 

The fog still surrounds me, the waves crash, and the crowd presses.
But I am safe and strong – with YOU.
I can sweep the fog away. I can swallow the rain. I can embrace the crowd.

You are near… you are HERE, always.

AMEN.

Drifting Towards God

two boats

I have a friend who is a social worker at a middle school, and she spends a lot of time talking to her young students about the peaks and valleys of friendship. Children’s loyalty can change with the wind. A best friend one day can be an icy acquaintance the next. This can lead to confusion and hurt and can be very difficult to navigate. To help her students make sense of it, my friend uses the metaphor of two drifting boats. It’s ok to drift away from a friend for awhile, if that’s what seems best. It doesn’t mean you can’t come back together at some future point.

More than anything, God desires to be in relationship with us. But the metaphor of the drifting boats isn’t quite right in describing this divine relationship. God never drifts away from us, but is instead the constant fixed point. Firmly anchored in a place of love and faithfulness. We may come and go depending on our feelings, emotions, doubts, and life circumstances…but the best news is that God never moves. We can always drift back (or even come crashing back!) onto the shores of God’s love. 

In her book Journal Keeping: Writing for Spiritual Growth, Luann Budd poses the question: “On a scale of 1-10 (10 being intimate), how close do you feel to God today?”  Before continuing with this blog post, sit for a few minutes in silence and answer this question. Write down the number.

Now spend some time this week examining why you scored yourself that way. If your number is on the low side, why might that be? Have you drifted away from God for some reason? What is holding you back from moving closer to God? Very often it’s guilt. Or maybe confusion. A feeling that God has abandoned you during a time of need. Or it may be a fear of revealing yourself. If God truly saw me for everything I am, God couldn’t possibly love me! 

Recognize that these thoughts may be natural and very human, but they are not based in the truth of God’s love. Try to spend a little bit of time each day pondering God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and presence in your life. You’ll find your thoughts begin to change and you’ll drift closer to God each day.

If you scored high on the scale, that’s great! You’re feeling close to God in this moment. Drink it in and let yourself be filled with gratitude. Examine the circumstances that have you feeling so close to God right now. What methods are you using to connect with God in your life?  

  • Maybe it’s nature. You’re in touch with the beauty of God’s creation. You find God in the warm sunshine, the gentle breeze, the endless ocean, the enduring woods. 
  • Maybe it’s relationships. You feel fulfilled by the love in your life, and you know that God has placed these people in your path. You feel God every time you hug your child, smile at your spouse, laugh with your sister, or cry with a friend. 
  • Maybe it’s your ministry or vocation. You are doing God’s work and you feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose. You can hear God speaking to you through the work that you do. Helping others, caring for the earth, tending to the needs of God’s Kingdom. 

Whatever the reason may be, lean into it. Capture the feeling. Write about it in your journal.  There will come a time when you inevitably drift away again, and it will help to have a reminder of this time when you felt close to God’s radiant love.  

And remember, our spiritual practice is constantly changing and evolving. Your score today may not be your score tomorrow. Return to this exercise again and again in your ongoing journey to draw closer to God.

 

Background Photo by Evgeny Nelmin on Unsplash

Lost and Found

compass

Loving God, bless the times when I am a seeker. Forever seeking to know You more deeply. Traveling to all places and all times to discover You in our midst. I seek those thin places where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and I can gaze upon Your face.

Loving God, bless the times when I grow weary of seeking. When I simply want to be found. Come and seek me wherever I am, whatever I may be doing. When You are part of the ordinary moments of my day…then I am home.

Loving God, whether I am seeking or sought, lost or found…I praise You in all things. Your love is mighty and good. Your power is everlasting.

AMEN.

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.